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New Caledonia is a group of islands including the main island, Grande Terre, in the Melanesian region of the southwest Pacific. It is a special collectivity of France and lies 1,210 kms east of Australia.
The islands were first inhabited over 3,500 years ago by the Lapitan Austronesians migrating east from Southeast Asia. They evolved into the Kanak Melanesians. Captain Cook was the first European to sight the main island in 1774, naming it New Caledonia. Cannibalism was widespread and there were few visits for the next 70 years. However, Europeans began to settle when missionaries arrived and sandalwood was traded.
In 1853 France claimed the islands. Blackbirding (kidnapping labourers) of Kanaks was introduced and Grande Terre also became a penal colony. Nickel mining using labourers from nearby islands became a key industry with disaffected Kanaks confined to reservations.
The Vichy French governor was expelled in 1940 and in 1942, with the help of Australia, the islands hosted US bases. After the war the islands reverted back to France prior to a nickel boom from 1969.
After years of unrest from the Kanaks the Noumea Accord in 1998 allowed some autonomy but independence has still not been achieved.The economy depends on nickel and financial assistance from France.
New Caledonia is part of the Melanesia region and includes the main island of Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands in the Coral Sea, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines, and a few remote islets.
It is a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent called Zealandia which separated from Australia in the Palaeocene and drifted northeastwards. Grande Terre has a central mountain range whose highest peak is Mont Panié at 1,629m. The New Caledonian lagoon is one of the largest in the world surrounded by a barrier reef. The stratigraphy comprises volcanics and metamorphosed flysch sediments deposited in island arc settings.
This geology is not suitable for the generation and accumulation of commercial volumes of oil and gas and New Caledonia has no indigenous oil or gas resources, either onshore or offshore. Globalshift believes that it is very unlikely to achieve any production in the future. In the 1950s six wells were drilled but no drilling has occurred since then and no exploration drilling is expected.
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New Caledonia is a collectivity to which France has gradually transferred powers. It is governed by a 54-member Territorial Congress. France is represented by a High Commissioner. It is represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators.
The Kanak society has several layers of customary authority. The 16-member Customary Senate, including a President, must be consulted on legal matters as defined in the Noumea Accord.
There is no department of local government specifically responsible for oil and gas resources.
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