The New Zealand government will make "significant" and controversial changes to the country's mining laws next year to enable mining companies to explore and extract minerals more easily, New Zealand media reported Monday.
Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that the Crown Minerals Act, under which prospecting and mining are regulated, would be "streamlined."
"We're going to make significant changes to the Crown Minerals Act because conversations to date under previous ministers have found that there are opportunities to improve the way that companies can access our minerals, apply for opportunities to explore, that type of thing," Heatley told the Herald.
A consultation paper would be released early this year to inform the government on changes to the act, said the report.
Heatley would not comment on which aspects of the law would be changed, according to the report, but he said, "We can certainly make it more streamlined as a general high-level term for these companies to identify probable areas."
In 2010, the center-right National Party-led government backed off plans to open up designated conservation land to mineral exploration after a public outcry against the proposals.
Heatley told the Herald that although the government planned to "get the best out of natural resources" to create jobs and lift the economy "we're very, very conscious of our environmental obligations."
Co-leader of the opposition Green Party Russel Norman told the newspaper he did not accept the assurances that environmental protections would not be weakened in the changes.
"The government's made no bones about the fact their economic strategy involves more short-term extractive industries," said Norman.
Heatley's comments were published the day after the Sunday Star- Times reported that Canada's TAG Oil had told investors in North America that the East Coast region of New Zealand's North Island was "literally leaking oil and gas" and that it wanted to turn the region into the "Texas of the south."
In a paper to investors, the company reportedly said one of its business goals this year was "New Zealand land acquisitions."
"Thousands of sections of land provide potential for thousands of wells," the document said, according to the Sunday Star-Times.
Energy spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party Moana Mackey said New Zealanders would be shocked by the revelations and concerned about the impact of oil and gas exploration of the environment and the country's tourism industry.
"This is not where New Zealand's economic future lies. We need to be investing instead in renewable solutions," said Mackey in a statement issued Sunday.