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Sunset from the air

Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand comprising 3 small atolls (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo) covering an area of 319,031 sq kms. It lies north of American Samoa (Swains Island) and east of Tuvalu. Swains Island is geographically part of Tokelau.

Tokelau was settled around 1,000 years ago by migrants from nearby islands but British sailors, when they landed on Atafu (named Duke of York's Island) in 1765 and Nukunonu (Duke of Clarence's Island) in 1791, met no one. A US whaler landed on Fakaofo (Bowditch) in 1835 and a small population was discovered.

Missionaries began to arrive from 1845. In 1863 the native able-bodied men were kidnapped as slaves. Americans and Europeans then settled, intermarried, and repopulated the islands.

In 1877 Tokelau was made a protectorate of the UK as the Union Islands. Annexed with the Gilbert and Ellice Colony in 1916, they reverted to New Zealand in 1926.

The name Tokelau was adopted in 1946 which formally became part of New Zealand in 1949. The islands were claimed by the USA but were ceded in 1979, defining the boundary with American Samoa.  

In 2011 Tokelau followed Samoa and moved its time zone to the west of the international Date Line. The economy is almost entirely dependent on subsidies from New Zealand.

Tokelau comprises three tiny coral atolls (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo) sitting on Pacific oceanic crust. The highest point is just 5m above sea level. Swains Island, also an atoll, is geographically part of Tokelau but is under US control as part of American Samoa.

The geology of Tokelau is not suitable for the generation and accumulation of commercial volumes of oil and gas. Thus it has no identified indigenous oil or gas resources, either onshore or offshore, and Globalshift believes it is unlikely to achieve any production in the future. No exploration wells have ever been drilled in the territory.

Tokelau plans to make itself entirely dependent on renewable energy, mostly generated by solar power (photovoltaics) with the remainder refined from coconut oil.

In 2012 it became the first territory in the world to meet all its electricity needs from the sun.


Map and National Flag

Brief history of the territory (New Zealand)



E and P


Oil and gas summary



Land area (sq kms)

Oil prod (000s b/d)

Gas prod (bcm/yr)

Oil cons (000s b/d)

Gas cons (bcm/yr)



0.0014 mm






Head of state is the UK monarch represented by an administrator appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand. The head of government presides over a council which acts as a cabinet including the Faipule (leader) and Pulenuku (village mayor) of each of the 3 atolls.

Legislative power lies with a 23-member unicameral General Fono. Tokelau has refused self government in referenda 2 times.

There is no department of government in Tokelau specifically responsible for oil and gas resources.

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