Austrian oil giant OMV, in partnership with its majority joint venture partner Shell New Zealand, will commence their next seaborne seismic data acquisition programme in the Great South Basin.

The acquisition programme is estimated to cost $50m.

OMV New Zealand managing director Peter Zeilinger said the Great South Basin located 100km offshore was not territory for small vessels.

The first seismic streamer vessel Polarcus Alima arrived in Wellington last week and is scheduled to begin its survey off the coast of the lower South Island this week.

The Polarcus will consist of a team of five marine mammal observers during the survey, four more than required by the Department of Conservation (DoC) to look and listen for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.

DoC said they will work independently from OMV and the observers could shut down the survey whenever marine mammals entered safety distances.

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By GlobalData

The Polarcus will acquire a minimum of data covering 2,250sq km, but is targeting a total 4,000sq km of first-time 3D surveying, between now and July 2012.

OMV said in August that the company is expanding its offshore exploration in the area after confirming Shell New Zealand as its majority joint venture partner, with a further $50m going into the data acquisition.

"It will take until the end of 2013 to process and evaluate the seismic data before drilling can even be considered, but we remain hopeful of a positive result," added OMV.

Earlier, Oil giant Exxon was awarded an exploration permit for the area but was pulled out in 2010 due to technical difficulties and lack of a joint venture partner, reports

Separate seaborne hydro-graphic survey work in April, by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras off the North Island’s East Cape, prompted a small group of vessels and Greenpeace to protest against the prospect of deep-sea drilling.

The protest was carried out in the wake of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill in the US.