There has been strong and competitive interest from petroleum companies in the bidding round for new exploration blocks in the onshore and near shore Taranaki Basin, Associate Minister of Energy Paul Swain announced today. Mr. Swain said that 41 bids have been received for the 26 petroleum exploration blocks offered in the round, which closed on April 30. Twenty-one companies were involved in the applications. Petroleum companies are required when they bid, to submit a five-year exploration work program within the area of each block, along with an estimated cost of carrying out the work. Where there is more than one application for a block, the party bidding the best work program is likely to be awarded an exploration permit. Mr. Swain said the total value of all work programs submitted is over $540 million. “I am extremely pleased that there has been such strong competition for most blocks. This is a reflection of the keen interest there is in New Zealand as a place to explore for oil and gas.” New Zealand was recently ranked as the 17th most attractive country in the world for petroleum exploration investment by the IHS Energy Group’s international survey — the highest ranking it has ever achieved. The bidding round includes 20 blocks in onshore Taranaki covering a total area of 1528 sq km. These onshore blocks are close to the currently producing oil and gas fields of Kapuni, McKee, Tariki/Ahuroa, Waihapa/Ngaere, Ngatoro and Kaimiro, and to the recent discoveries at Rimu/Kauri. There are six offshore blocks covering 6700 sq km on the near shore continental shelf, including areas near the Pohokura and Maui fields and areas along the edge of the shelf. The adjacent Deepwater Taranaki Basin area will be put up for another bidding round later in 2002. Mr. Swain said he looks forward to announcing the successful applicants for the current bidding round in approximately two months.