A hearing will start today which could allow a boost in the search for gas at the Maui gas field off the coast of Taranaki.
It could invigorate the 38-year-old Maui gas field, which was written off as nearing depletion 15 years ago but has turned out to enjoy a robust old age.
It would allow Shell Taranaki Ltd to drill for more gas in the field, 35km to 50km offshore.
The company would use a new rig to drill sideways into the existing field to extract overlooked pockets of gas.
An application to use that rig is being heard before the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in Taranaki starting this morning.
It would work alongside the existing gas production platforms, Maui A and Maui B. But getting the right to use it would require two consents from the EPA – one marine consent and the other a discharge consent for runoff from the rig.
The Maui field was discovered in 1969 and production started in 1979 under laws which have since become obsolete.
It won a 35-year extension from the EPA in 2015, but this did not cover work by a new drilling rig.
In a submission to the authority, Shell said the risks of anything going wrong were small.
The application was opposed by a number of environmental groups including Climate Justice Taranaki.
“Instead of continuing to pour money into a dying industry to achieve ‘life extension’ with uncertain returns, it would be far smarter to transition into energy solutions that are less polluting, more sustainable and more socially inclusive,” the organisation wrote in a submission.
Shell’s application comes after years of steadily falling interest in oil exploration.
Last year, just one company had its exploration plan accepted by the government.
The previous year the number was nine, and the year before, 15.
However, oil prices have recovered from their doldrums – Brent Crude is just shy of $60 a barrel, more than twice its nadir of January last year.
Moreover, jobs website Seek reported a big rise in the number of positions in the mining, energy and resources sectors in the past year.