CONSTRUCTION COULD begin on the first of potentially "thousands" of oil wells on the North Island's East Coast early next year.
The joint-venture of North American energy companies, TAG Oil and Apache Corp, hopes to extract up to 14 billion barrels of oil within its permitted area of 364,000 hectares.
The ambitious plan - which backers say has "potential for thousands of wells" - has divided opinion among residents in the East Coast, Poverty Bay and Hawke's Bay regions that the joint- venture hopes to operate in.
Opponents claim they have been shut out of the consent process, with local bodies considering some of the numerous consent applications behind closed doors.
But TAG Oil has made it clear in a statement it was moving ahead with the contentious exploration.
"East Coast Basin activities with partner Apache Corp - which has agreed to spend up to $100 million to conduct a multi-phased exploration, appraisal and potential development programme - are progressing well," TAG said.
"If the necessary drilling consents are obtained from district and regional councils in a timely manner, TAG and Apache anticipate well-site construction to begin in the first quarter of calendar 2013, followed shortly by drilling operations."
Prior to setting its sights on the East Coast, TAG set up as a major player in the energy industry here with its operations in Taranaki.
Last month the company revealed its current production in the region was 2100 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BoE), a term used as a way of combining oil and natural gas reserves and production into a single measure.
The company expected that to grow during the fiscal year to about 4000BoE.
The latest statement from TAG added: "Among all the infrastructure upgrades under way to open the throttle on yield and production in the Taranaki Basin, we never lose sight of our major exploration potential.
"We have had great exploration success thus far, but we still have bigger aspirations."
TAG said that included the recent acquisition of two further permits on the East Coast totalling 340,000 hectares. The company had also gained onshore and offshore "frontier exploration permits" totalling more than 404,685 hectares in the Canterbury Basin.
It is planning a, "2-D seismic programme to identify new leads and prospects" in the region.
In July, the Gisborne District Council granted the TAG/Apache Corp joint-venture resource consent to begin work for a drilling platform at Te Karaka.
Ratepayers were not given the chance to make submissions.
Despite the threat of an appeal, TAG said it had acquired a modern drilling rig for its East Coast operations.
Extraction: TAG Oil's predictions of growing production in Taranaki are matched by its expanded operation on the East Coast.