New Zealand Bans New Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration

New Zealand’s Coalition Government will no longer be offering new licenses to allow offshore oil and gas drilling within its territorial waters.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today in what is being hailed by environmental groups as a significant turning point in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The ban will not affect existing licenses or onshore exploration, meaning the industry will continue unabated for years to come. However, Ms Ardern said in a Facebook Live message that the new policy was “drawing a line in the sand” and would allow the country to plan for the future. Her government, elected last year, has ambitious goals of generating all power in New Zealand from renewable sources by 2035 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Oil and gas companies are currently issued rights to explore ‘blocks’ of the sea each year, covering a total of 100,000 square kilometres. It’s estimated that the industry directly employs 4,500 people in the country, and contributes about $2.5 billion to the economy.

“Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” the prime minister later told a press conference in Wellington.

Greenpeace Executive Director, Russel Norman, said it was a “historic moment, and a huge win for our climate and people power.” The NGO has been lobbying the government for some time and last month delivered a petition signed by 50,000 people on the issue, which was personally accepted by the prime minister. “The tide has turned irreversibly against Big Oil in New Zealand,” Norman added.

“Today’s announcement is significant internationally too. By ending new oil and gas exploration in our waters, the fourth largest Exclusive Economic Zone on the planet is out of bounds for new fossil fuel exploitation. New Zealand has stood up to one of the most powerful industries in the world.”