Oil giant Shell has bought a 50 per cent stake in the Great South Basin oil and gas exploration joint venture operated by OMV New Zealand.
The joint venture holds three exploration permits in the Great Southern Basin, a huge offshore area of 130,000 square kilometres south and east of Invercargill.
The joint venture has also announced it will conduct a comprehensive 3D seismic testing programme in the first three months of next year on permits 50119 and 50120 off the Otago Coast focusing on the most promising areas identified by earlier 2D testing. A third permit 50121 will be returned to the Crown.
Existing joint venture partners OMV and PTTEP will retain 18 per cent each and Mitsui Australia 14 per cent.
Shell is also a joint venture partner in Taranaki's Maui, Kapuni and Pohokura field.
OMV New Zealand managing director Peter Zeilinger said Shell brought valuable technical expertise in deep sea exploration and development to the Great South Basin joint venture.
Shell New Zealand chairman Rob Jager said the venture reflected the company's continuing commitment to exploration and production in New Zealand.
OMV will continue as operator or the permits till the end of the seismic programme at which point Shell would take over.
A specialist vessel, Polarcus Alima, was due to arrive in December and was expected to cover about 3000 square kilometres of the exploration area.
Zeilinger said about $50 million had been invested in the studying the Great South Basin over the past four years.
"The joint venture is now committing to an additional significant investment for the next phase of the project," Zeilinger said.
"There are no guarantees that drilling will take place, but we are hopeful that the seismic survey will yield positive results," he said.
A rival consortium of oil giant ExxonMobil and its New Zealand partner Todd pulled out after finding the area too high risk.