Headquartered in the heart of New Zealand’s premier energy region, First Gas Group owns and operates some of the country’s largest and most important infrastructure.
Snaking up the west coast of the North Island and branching out across the island, are thousands of kilometres of gas transmission and distribution pipelines that supply major industrial plants, power stations, dairy factories, homes, enterprises and essential services, such as hospitals.
“They’re vital pieces of infrastructure for the day-today operations of some of our major industries and for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders,” says First Gas Group chief executive Paul Goodeve, at the company’s head office in New Plymouth.
First Gas was created in 2016 when Australian-based First Sentier Investors bought the gas transmission and distribution network of electricity and gas distribution company Vector Limited for $952.5 million. This included the Kāpuni natural gas transmission pipeline, which runs from Kāpuni, in South Taranaki, to Auckland, and south to Wellington.
First Gas then purchased the Māui natural gas transmission pipeline from oil and gas companies Shell, OMV and Todd (collectively known as the Māui Mining Companies) for $335 million. The Māui pipeline is New Zealand’s main gas transmission line; more than half of the gas that flows along it supplies the Huntly Power Station and the two Taranaki methanol plants owned by Methanex.
All up, First Gas has more than 2,500km of high pressure gas transmission pipes and about 4,800km of gas distribution pipes in the North Island.
The pipelines are supplied by Taranaki’s offshore and onshore natural gas fields. Having the majority of those assets in the region and the expertise of those involved in the oil and gas industry is what prompted First Gas to have its headquarters in Taranaki.
“There’s a fantastic eco-system of businesses that exist in Taranaki,” says Paul. “Growing out of the oil and gas industry and Think Big, there’s a real bubble of technical expertise in the oil and gas industry and associated disciplines, which stretches from welders and engineers to our councils and lawyers.
“There’s also an exceptionally high level of health and safety expertise – probably at a level that you don’t see anywhere else in New Zealand.”
The First Gas Group is owned by funds managed by First Sentier Investors, a global asset management enterprise that manages more than AU$200 billion in assets on behalf of a range of investors, including pension funds and institutional investors.
In 2017, First Gas Group furthered its investment in gas infrastructure, with affiliate company Gas Services New Zealand (GSNZ) buying the Ahuroa gas storage facility, near Stratford in central Taranaki. Further investment has followed with the facilities upgraded to enable increased storage capacity.
In 2018, GSNZ bought New Zealand’s largest LPG retailer Rockgas, from Contact Energy, for $260 million.
“Our shareholders like investing in New Zealand and infrastructure-type assets. Both Ahuroa and Rockgas were seen as investment opportunities that complemented the First Gas business and fit well with our long-term investment approach, which is to diversify our domestic gas offering and grow our business,” Paul says.
First Gas is also looking to the future and has received Government support, through the Provincial Growth Fund, to investigate whether its existing gas pipelines can support hydrogen or hydrogen-blend gas transmission.
“The trial is really exciting for us as we see it as a real opportunity for gas and for New Zealand. Our trial is not going to answer whether hydrogen’s made, it’s going to answer whether we can transport it in our pipelines, and we’re pretty sure we can,” Paul says.
“There’s opportunity for the likes of hydrogen projects to kick the region on. The expertise is here, the infrastructure is here, there’s a strong workforce here, and councils and the regional council have a lot of experience and well-understood processes by which projects are well considered.”