Prime Minister Ahern, who clinched last year's election with a strong focus on the environment, said the ban was "an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand".
She says for that reason, the government has set a target of zero carbon pollution by 2050 - and that the country needs to begin transitioning away from fossil fuels now to make a difference in time.
Today, the Coalition Government announced an end to the annual offshore "Block Offer" process, which sees hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of New Zealand land and sea being offered to companies to explore for oil and gas.
There are 57 existing permits that could allow for oil and gas extraction for decades to come if new sources are found, a far more palatable option for the party than an immediate shutdown of the industry.
Chief executive Cameron Madgwick said a well-managed trading scheme was the way to reduce New Zealand's emissions, not "arbitrarily banning" certain fuel types.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said his NZ First party had insisted on protecting existing exploration rights.
The government said exploration could continue with permits that it had already issued.
New Zealand Oil & Gas this week acquired a 25% interest in an onshore exploration opportunity in Taranaki, which will be drilled in the fourth quarter this year (subject to regulatory consents).
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National's energy and resources spokesman Jonathan Young described the decision as "economic vandalism" which would ensure the demise of 8000 high-paying jobs and remove $2.5billion from the economy.
Welcomed by environmentalists, the move has attracted energy sector criticism for lack of consultation and questions over supplying New Zealand's long-term energy requirements.
"Without exploration there will be no investment in oil and gas production or the downstream industries".
"This decision is devoid of any rationale".
New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said the decision was "a kick in the guts" for the Taranaki region.
Over the past few years, said Greenpeace, public opposition to oil has grown into a global movement, with notable campaigns including opposition to Statoil's exploration in the Great Australian Bight, demonstrations against Total's drilling plans near the Amazon Reef, and the ongoing battle against the construction of new tar sands pipelines in North America.
For environmental groups, the move is a big step in tackling climate change. "These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions".
"No current jobs will be affected by this as we are honoring all agreements with current permit holders", she added.
For years Māori have fought against major worldwide oil companies, with 31 active oil and gas permits in the country now, the last of those is set to end in 2030.
The announcement does not apply to onshore exploration permits.