WELLINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - New Zealand has awarded deepwater petroleum exploration permits to Norway's Statoil and Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd, which join other overseas companies already looking to tap the nation's energy resources.
New Zealand has been courting foreign interest in frontier oil and gas basins that have largely been ignored since some early discoveries in the 1970s, as it looks to boost the country's fourth-largest export industry.
The two companies, along with smaller Singapore-based rival Mont D'Or Petroleum, joined local firms and foreign companies already operating in the country in being granted permits for 10 prospects, half of which are in deepwater basins.
"The award of exploration permits today is another important step toward unlocking New Zealand's oil and gas potential, both on and offshore," energy minister Simon Bridges said in a statement.
Interest in exploring New Zealand's remote, rough seas has increased in the last few years as technology has improved, while the development of floating LNG facilities means gas can be processed for shipping without having to build expensive onshore plants.
Woodside Energy Holdings and New Zealand Oil and Gas were jointly awarded two offshore permits - one in the Taranaki region, the country's only petroleum-producing area, and another off the southern tip off the South Island.
Statoil Lambda Netherlands BV was given a permit to explore off the northwest coast of the North Island, while Mont D'Or has an onshore permit to explore a block on the North Island's east coast
The remaining offshore permit in the Taranaki Basin was awarded to New Zealand Octanex, while other onshore blocks were granted to Australia's AWE and Japan's Mitsui, as well as Canada's TAG Oil.
The three new overseas entrants join petroleum heavyweights including Royal Dutch Shell and Houston-based Anadarko which already hold deepwater exploration permits around the country.
Hoping to build on its massive natural gas discoveries in Mozambique, Anadarko this month kicked off its first-ever deepwater drilling campaign in New Zealand in a joint venture with Australia's Origin Energy Ltd.
In the coming months, Anadarko plans to drill the country's first deepwater wells in 15 years - one in the Taranaki Basin and another off the east coast of the South Island. It has said the wells could potentially yield multiple trillions of cubic feet of gas.
Meanwhile, a consortium of Shell, Austria's OMV, Thailand's PTTEP and Mitsui will decide by January whether to drill in the Great South Basin.