A three-year moratorium on mineral prospecting permits within parts of Southland was lifted last month, meaning central government is now accepting applications for low-impact prospecting permits within western and northern Southland.
A moratorium was put in place three years ago on accepting mineral prospecting permit applications over a large swath of the Southland-Otago region to allow regional aeromagnetic surveys and geochemical sampling to be carried out.
A prospecting permit is restricted to low-impact activities only such as geological mapping, aeromagnetic surveys, and hand sampling.
Companies seeking to gather information on mineral resources were most likely to seek prospecting permits, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE).
"Basically they will look to identify the location and size of mineral deposits to inform decisions of whether to apply for other permits and possibly mine the resource."
Prospecting was often the very first stage of the permit process.
"The next stage is a minerals exploration permit which is a more detailed search and assessment of mineral resources which generally involves data being gathered over more specific areas to ascertain if the resource is commercially viable."
There is one active minerals prospecting permit in Southland, granted last year, which allows permit owner Ferrite Resources NZ to prospect for a wide range of minerals ranging from aluminum to zircon.
While the government is now accepting mineral prospecting applications in the region, the tap for oil exploration permits in Southland has shut off for the foreseeable future.
Sections of Southland, including parts of the Lake Te Anau shoreline, were controversially included in last year's Block Offer, which allowed parties to tender for oil exploration permits in allocated sections of New Zealand.
Oil exploration permits never materialised in the region.
Months later after the Block Offer 2017 results, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced there would be no further offshore oil and gas exploration permits granted. Because no permits were granted in Southland, oil exploration was now off the table for the region's foreseeable future under the current Government.
The MBIE spokesman said if an oil exploration permit been granted in Southland last year, it would have moved forward regardless of this year's policy change.
New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals (NZPAM) did not publicly disclose who made bids as part of the Block Offer, how many bids were not granted, or why bids were not granted, citing commercial sensitivity.