Greenpeace is hailing the "cancellation" of plans by United States oil giant Anadarko to drill off the New Zealand coast.
But the Texan company says it is still coming, just a year later than it hoped.
Anadarko says it has now secured a rig to drill the Carrack/Caravel prospect off the Canterbury coast, followed by the Romney prospect off Taranaki in the summer of 2013/14. Both are in water more than 1000 metres deep and both are potentially huge oil or gas fields.
Anadarko said just getting the drill ship to New Zealand would cost US$100 million (NZ$123m) and US$1m a day to drill each of possibly three wells.
That could amount to as much as a US$200m commitment to New Zealand.
Anadarko had earlier hoped to drill the wells this coming summer but could not get a suitable rig.
Greenpeace said yesterday that Anadarko's cancellation was "the clearest sign yet that the Government must give up its single-minded fossil fuels agenda, in favour of winning New Zealand a place in the global clean energy race".
Anadarko had a 25 per cent stake in BP's Deepwater Horizon well which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Greenpeace NZ senior climate campaigner Simon Boxer said: "It's a fact that the exploratory phase is the most dangerous of the entire deep sea drilling process.
"For that reason, it's great news for New Zealanders, our beaches and our economy that Anadarko isn't coming this year."
While deepwater drilling was extremely rare in New Zealand waters, Anadarko said drilling was "routinely" done in 2000 metres elsewhere in the world.
Boxer said it was "rubbish" that Anadarko said that it had not been able to find a rig.
If the company wanted to be here, it would be, he said. The company had contracted numerous rigs for exploration around the world.
But Anadarko's New Zealand corporate affairs manager, Alan Seay, said Anadarko had not been able to get a rig for this summer because of high international demand for rigs, "New Zealand is a long way away” and there was a limited drilling season.
“There is nothing unusual about this in the world of oil exploration. We had hoped to begin a drilling programme this summer . . . but the rig market has been very tight and a suitable rig hasn't been available,” he said.
But Anadarko had now secured a rig, which was being built in a Korean shipyard, and would get here by summer 2013/14.
Anadarko and Australian company Origin Energy are 50-50 partners in the Carrack/Caravel prospect within the Canterbury Basin, in water of 1100 metres, far offshore from Dunedin. One, possibly two, wells could be drilled there in 2013/14.
The prospects may hold the equivalent of 750 million barrels of oil or more likely gas, according to initial Origin estimates.
Anadarko is also a 50 per cent partner and operator in another deepwater prospect, called Romney, far off the Taranaki coast, along with United States-based Global Resources, and Hyundai.
One exploration would be drilled at the Romney prospect in about 1500 metres of water.
Past modelling suggests the Romney structure "may be" charged with nearly 1 billion barrels of oil.