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Minister didn't know park was in drilling plan

Tuesday 8 Apr 2014 5:57 p.m.

3 News can reveal the Government is opening up the Department of Conservation's (DOC) biggest forest park for oil and gas exploration.

That came as news even to the minister who signed it off, with Simon Bridges admitting today he had never heard of the park.

Victoria Forest Park is 200,000 hectares - DOC's biggest forest park, and is described by the department as "pristine" and "untouched".

Last week the Government signed off a block offer - the biggest area ever of sea and land for potential oil and gas exploration. That included huge chunks of land on the West Coast. In the middle of one is Victoria Forest Park.

None of it includes what's known as Schedule 4 land - the conservation estate National promised it would not drill.

A forest park like Victoria is one step down from a national park and has less protection.

Mr Bridges says there will still be controls like getting resource consent before any drilling can take place.

"There will be the Department of Conservation and local authorities that an operator needs to contend with," he says.

But opponents are using the potential oversight to go on the attack.

"It is a shocking indictment for the callous disregard that Simon Bridges has for our conservation estate that he is opening up thousands of square kilometres," says Green Party co-leader Russel Norman.

DOC describes Victoria Forest Park as having "untouched landscapes with stunning river, lake and mountain scenery, as well as pristine beech forest. There are several ecological areas and a wildlife corridor." But Mr Bridges was not even aware it existed.

"I think what I do know is that this is the West Coast, there's been mining and this sort of activity  for over a hundred years," he says.

National parks will remain safe from drilling but a forest park described as "untouched" is on the block. Mr Bridges may not have known about it today, but the environmental lobby won't let him forget it in a hurry.

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