The first deep-water drilling for oil and gas off the New Zealand coast is set to start by the end of next year.
The American company that has signed the drilling contract yesterday unveiled plans for a November or December 2013 start off the Taranaki and Canterbury coasts - and Greenpeace responded by calling them reckless.
Texas-based exploration company Anadarko Petroleum has signed a three-year drilling contract with Noble Corporation for the use of the drillship Noble Bob Douglas.
The new ultra deep-water drillship, which is being built in South Korea, is expected to be launched in the fourth quarter of next year and will then head to New Zealand to drill at least three deep-water exploration wells off Taranaki and Canterbury.
Anadarko had planned to drill in New Zealand waters this summer but those plans were cancelled.
Environmentalists had hailed the cancellation as proof of growing objections to deep-water drilling but the company said it was simply because a suitable rig was not available for the programme.
Anadarko's New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay confirmed the drilling plans.
"It's all not set in concrete yet, because it depends on the timing of delivery of the new vessel. But it has definitely been booked for next summer," Mr Seay said.
"We've had to wait because we can't just use any rig off New Zealand. There can be fairly demanding sea conditions out there."
Greenpeace spokesman Nathan Argent said his organisation was concerned that Anadarko was not bringing a relief rig.
"If there was a blowout a relief rig would be needed to cap that well and to prevent the oil from leaking," Mr Argent said.
It could take several weeks for a relief rig to arrive, he said, "over which time you have obviously got hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil pouring into the sea and along the Taranaki coastline".
"We consider deep-water drilling dangerous and it shouldn't be permitted off the coast of New Zealand but doing it without a relief rig is utterly reckless."
Mr Argent said the environmental and economic impact, if something was to go wrong, would be catastrophic not just for Taranaki but for the entire country.
Climate Justice Taranaki spokeswoman Teresa Goodin said Anadarko's plans were not welcome in Taranaki because the environmental and economic consequences of a spill were simply too great.
"We have seen with the Rena spill that New Zealand does not have the capacity to deal with a comparatively small spill, other than Joe Bloggs going down the beach with a shovel and a plastic bag.
"What will happen if there is a spill like in the Gulf of Mexico, in which Anadarko had a 25 per cent stake?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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