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Research Pinpoints Canterbury Oil Potential

4 July 2001

Young Scienctist’s Research Pinpoints Canterbury Oil Potential

Seismic research being carried out in Canterbury by a young science graduate could provide clues towards discovering oil or gas in the area.

Mike Stevens, who is studying for his MSc in geophysics at Victoria University’s School of Earth Sciences, has been helping oil exploration company Indo-Pacific Energy in its quest to discover the location of sedimentary rock of sufficient depth and thickness to generate oil and gas.

Mike received funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, as a Technology for Industry Fellow, that enabled him to carry out research and analysis in the Canterbury region over the year-long project to interpret underlying strata.

As well as drawing upon thousands of existing observations of the earth’s gravity field, he introduced new seismic findings into the ever-increasing database for the Canterbury region

Indo-Pacific’s CEO, Dave Bennett, explains: “We had an interesting piece of seismic data but not the time to analyse it ourselves. We needed to find someone who had both the time and academic experience to take on the project.”

According to Mr Bennett, the work indicated at least one area with interesting possibilities in the coastal Rakaia region. “Oil and gas are generated in one region, but usually move underground to accumulate in another, so being able to narrow down the area where generation may occur is a big advantage for oil exploration companies,” he says.

“There were two discoveries made off the Canterbury coast in the mid eighties but the on-shore region is, by and large, an unexplored blank page. There are possibilities for oil and gas presence and now we intend to search for clear evidence using ground geochemistry surveys, looking at samples in the top metre of the ground.”

Mr Bennett says the consequences of oil or gas discovery for the Canterbury region would be significant, both in terms of employment as well as economically. He points to the financial impact of the Taranaki exploration as a guide to the possibilities.

“I estimate that more than half of the $1/4 billion spent on seismic exploration alone, over the past decade or so in Taranaki, has been driven back into the local economy through payroll, while exploration drilling has similar direct economic benefits,” he says.

The Technology for Industry Fellowship from Technology New Zealand has enabled Mike Stevens to focus on two key parts of the research project, solving problems in oil exploration as well as in plate tectonics - the strength of the earth’s crust.

“There were some unusual times too, with the opportunity of working on an oil rig to the not-so pleasant experience of standing knee-deep in mud washing out a drilling system at 2am,” he says. With his research virtually completed, Mike is to take up a job as a marine geophysics technician at NIWA.

Indo-Pacific Energy is a Canadian company, listed on the US stock exchange, employing New Zealanders and exploring for oil and gas in New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea and China.

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