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Maori bid for Taranaki oil

By Michele Simpson

Friday 24th March 2000

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A Taranaki Maori tribe is claiming rights to a local oil field and says it may look to get a cut of Swift Energy's potentially cash-rich oil discovery which also lies on the iwi's doorstep.

South Taranaki iwi Nga Hapu o Ruahine has already filed a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal and has applied to have its bid heard urgently.

Submitted through Wellington solicitor and Victoria University lecturer David Erueti, the iwi claims it is entitled to all petroleum reserves including natural gas and condensate located within the region.

Swift Energy announced this week there is a potential 500 million barrels - the largest find in New Zealand - from the south Taranaki wildcat well.

While Nga Hapu o Ruahine's claim was filed in December last year, Mr Erueti said Swift's find was "right on our doorstep."

But Mr Erueti said the main reason for the urgency of its petroleum claim was centred on large offshore oil and gas field Kupe, 35km south of Hawera in water 30m deep. The Crown owns the nation's minerals, including gold, silver, uranium and petroleum. It has an 11% stake in Kupe and is looking to sell its interest.

Texan company Vanco Energy is in the throes of trying to buy a chunk of Fletcher Energy's 36.75% shareholding in Kupe and hopes to buy nearly three quarters of the licence including the Crown's stake.

"If the Crown sells then that will effectively box us in," said Mr Erueti. "It boils down to the protection of property. The tribe believes it has a property right and interest in ownership of the land - that's above and below."

Bell Gully senior associate David Tapsell, who has worked on treaty claims, told the New Zealand petroleum industry this week iwi were facing an uphill battle for petroleum and gas reserves.

The Crown had remained staunchly defiant it would not budge on negotiating iwi claims to petroleum and gas, Mr Tapsell said.

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