OPINION: Minority shareholders of New Zealand's only listed oil and gas company, New Zealand Oil and Gas, have been urged by the company's independent directors to sell and move on.

No matter that the offer price is at the very low end of the valuer's range and never mind that the company has a big portfolio of exploration targets.

The reasons are clear: petroleum companies aren't what the current Government sees when it dreams of the future. And when Singapore-based OGOG seals its takeover of New Zealand Oil and Gas (NZOG) – as it likely will in the shareholder vote scheduled for mid-October – it will be a triumph of policy consequence.

a sizable swath of New Zealand industry, from fertilizer production to manufacturing is fed and fueled by natural gas and it will be for years to come. The Kupe oil and gas plant and rig.

That policy is last year's Government ban on all new offshore exploration. It isn't outright, in that existing permits endure up to 2030. And onshore exploration permits in Taranaki will be issued until 2021. 

So the ban hasn't killed New Zealand's energy industry; but it is slowly strangling it, one small company at a time.

The ban introduced enormous political risk for new investment. As NZOG's independent directors point out in their message to shareholders, there is a direct line between Government policy and the situation shareholders currently face: "policy changes have had a dramatic effect on the perception of New Zealand as an appealing place to invest in the oil and gas industry."

It's the same story for a handful of other small energy companies now retreating from New Zealand. Vancouver-based TAG oil, which once made exploration and operations in the Taranaki basin the heart of its business, is selling to Tamarind.

TAG too cited the new Labour Government's hostility to energy companies, noting both the offshore ban and the Government's more limited offering of onshore blocks. 

In fact, the last permit issued in New Zealand was in 2017, a significant break with the past since before that permits were issued annually. The Government rejigging of legislation last year delayed the 2018 permit round for so long it still hasn't been awarded.

TAG is now turning its attention to Australia and its friendlier political climate.

The sale of the New Zealand assets has been pending since November of last year. It still hasn't closed, and only in August, nearly 10 months on, was the company able to announce full New Zealand Government approval. 

Wellington-based, Toronto-traded New Zealand Energy Corp is likely go next, if a buyer can be found. The penny stock is at a particularly low ebb.

It is true that external forces beyond government control have done their own damage.

Vancouver-based TAG oil, which once made New Zealand exploration and operations in the Taranaki basin the heart of its business, is selling to Tamarind.

The world oil price hit junior energy companies hard when it fell through US$30 (NZ$47) a barrel, scraping a low in 2016. Though the price has recovered and now sits around the US$60 mark (in the case of benchmark Brent) many companys' valuations remain battered.

Also, for every sale there's a willing buyer. Tamarind is a Malaysian-based operator with backing from massive American private equity player, Blackstone. It already operates New Zealand's Tui offshore field.

OGOG, the Singapore-based oil and gas arm of Ofer Global, initiated a first round purchase of control of NZOG in 2017. Both bring deeper pockets to the New Zealand market.

But it's also true that companies are disillusioned with New Zealand in particular. And the fewer there are to search out new reserves, particularly of natural gas, the worse off the country will be.

Mid-sized, Austrian OMV plans to begin an expensive, exploration well shortly in the Great South Basin. But the risk of failure is high. After all, there's never been an economic discovery off the south coast.

It might not sound like a worry for a Government that's soured on fossil fuels and is intent on hitting zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But a sizeable swath of New Zealand industry, from fertiliser production to manufacturing issue fed and fuelled by natural gas and it will be for years to come.

Indeed, industry remains reliant on oil too.

But the importance of local natural gas is far greater since it cannot be imported without prohibitive expense. The more companies there are looking for it the better.

But you wouldn't know that from the recently released draft strategy covering minerals and petroleum put out by Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods.

It's a remarkable document. It covers company obligations extensively and mentions strategy an awful lot but nowhere does it contain one.

Note from Nighthawk.NZ:

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