More oil exploration area could be opened in home of the world's rarest dolphin
An area twice the size of Auckland city could soon be open for oil exploration in a sanctuary set up to protect the world's rarest dolphin.
The latest proposed 67,695 square kilometre block offer for oil and gas exploration off the Taranaki coast includes 1,400 sqkm in the Maui's dolphin Marine Mammal Sanctuary.
With 2,600 sqkm of the sanctuary already approved for exploration, the addition would mean almost a third of the 12,000 sqkm protected area could soon be open to oil and gas companies.
The west coast sanctuary is home to the elusive Maui's dolphin of which there are estimated to be only 55 left.
* Another 40,000 square kilometres of oil territory open for tender in Taranaki
* Oil and gas conference to be held in New Plymouth for first time ever in 2017
* Large area off Canterbury coast proposed for oil exploration
* Seismic testing in Marine Sanctuary could damage hearing of sealife, zoologist says
The Green Party has bucked at the proposal but oil executives have said well sites like Pohokura have operated in the sanctuary for years.
"It's a hypocritical move to instate a sanctuary and to then allow oil exploration in a third of that same area," Green Party spokesperson for energy and resources Gareth Hughes said.
"They're not a common sight which is even more reason to protect their home."
Hughes said the government had the power to protect the Maui's dolphin under the Marine Mammals Protection Act but were choosing big industry over the environment.
"The Green Party have always maintained New Zealand need to pursue renewable energy rather than continually investing in fossil fuels," he said.
But the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment's national manager Josh Adams said marine mammals and the petroleum industry had co-existed for years.
"One of NZ's largest fields (Pohokura) is located in the sanctuary," he said.
Adams said any company undergoing seismic surveying in the sanctuary had to adhere to the Department of Conservation's code of conduct for minimising the damage noise from the survey equipment could have on marine mammals like dolphins.
Part of the code requires independent observers on board survey ships to look for dolphins or whales. If one is seen within a kilometre of the ship, all activity stops until the animal has left the area.
DOC spokesman Nick Hirst said there had been no incidents from oil and gas activities, nor seismic surveying, involving the Maui's dolphin.
Minister for energy and resources Simon Bridges announced on Monday that consultation had begun to offer up a total 508,691 square kilometres of oil exploration area for companies to bid on in 2017. Of that, 67,695 sqkm is off the Taranaki coast.
This is a small increase for Taranaki and will see the tender area increase by just 5,655 sqkm from last year's offer, which saw an almost fivefold increase in tender area leaping from 12,111 sqkm in 2015 to 62,040 sqkm in 2016.
Chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration & Production Association of New Zealand Cameron Madgwick said it was important to note that the 2017 Block Offer was still in the early phases of consultation.
"When the finalised area is announced in March next year it could be bigger, or it could be smaller," he said.
Madgewick said the fact Taranaki's tender area was continuing to grow every year was a good sign.
"It means there's belief that this area still has the potential for further exploration."