Despite a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of onshore unconventional reservoirs in the Northern Territory, onshore conventional gas exploration is ramping up in Central Australia.
While industry and residents wait for the NT Government to make a policy announcement on hydraulic fracturing, expected at the end of this month, onshore exploration continues in the red centre.
At the annual Geoscience Exploration Seminar in Alice Springs today — the Territory’s biggest mining conference — Santos confirmed it was continuing exploration in the Southern Amadeus Basin.
During a presentation, the company said 943 kilometres of 2D seismic data had been collected south of Alice Springs in 2016-17, with a follow-up to begin shortly.
The company hopes to drill wells in the area next year to explore further.
Santos is also progressing further north, with Australia’s offshore petroleum regulator, known as NOPSEMA, approving the Barossa-Caldita Offshore Project Proposal, 300km north of Darwin, within Santos’s northern Australia portfolio.
Managing director and chief executive Kevin Gallagher said via the company’s ASX announcement this was a big step forward.
“It reinforces Barossa’s position as the only gas supply source capable of meeting Darwin LNG’s timetable,” he said.
ACCC gives tick of approval
Meanwhile, NT onshore gas producer Central Petroleum was this month given ACCC approval to sell more gas to the eastern seaboard.
But managing director Richard Cottee said the company had been waiting for the ACCC to approve the joint marketing campaign, because company Macquarie Group owned the other half of the field.
With a new gas market emerging with the Northern Gas Pipeline, Central’s plan is to now increase production from 15 terajoules a day to more than 60.
“What we’ve said is we’re allowed to actually joint market for three years and we can enter into joint contracts as long as they don’t go beyond 2028,” Mr Cottee said.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the decision had been made because bringing forward new gas supply benefited the public.
“We were very mindful of this in granting interim authorisation.”
Minerals sector recovering
The minerals sector was also at the forefront of discussion at this year’s conference, with results released from a Federal Government geological survey of a patch of land between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa showing the mineral-rich area was three times bigger than first thought.
The survey was part of the $100 million Exploring for the Future program happening across northern WA, NT and Queensland, with results of potential commodities to be found in the area still to come.
Mineral exploration in the NT overall was hailed as being positive at the moment, with Ian Scrimgeour, executive director of the NT geological survey, explaining how the industry was bouncing back.
He said more than $90 million had been spent on mineral exploration in 2017, a jump from $78 million in 2016.
“It’s been a very tough time for the minerals exploration sector since about 2013.
“But in the last year or two we’ve seen a real improvement in commodity prices. It’s getting much easier to raise money.”
Policy uncertainty concerns at forefront
NT Minerals Council executive director Drew Wagner said despite a promising year for the industry in 2017, it could be downhill for the next 12 months thanks to uncertainty in NT Government policy.
According to Mr Wagner the uncertainty comes down to the many NT Government reviews happening at the moment around policy such as land access, royalties and approval processes.
“That has implications not only for the approval processes, but also your final investment decisions [and] your bankable feasibility studies,” he said.
Government working to make NT attractive for business
In a statement to ABC Rural, NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources, Ken Vowles, responded to Mr Wagner’s claims, stating the Government was working with industry to make the Territory an attractive place for resource companies to do business.
“We understand time is money for the resources industry. That’s why we are working to streamline processes and reducing information duplication requirements,” he said.
With the reviews underway, as well as a current moratorium on unconventional fracking, a local environmental lobby group said it would have liked to see more discussion around approval frameworks at the conference.
Alex Read, policy officer with the Arid Lands Environment Centre based in Alice Springs, said the lack of environmental speakers was telling.
“The discussion has been a little narrow and is lacking on the consideration of the broad environmental and social implications of petroleum and mineral exploration,” he said.
“It would be good to have a dedicated space to talk about the process of environmental regulation and approvals, and maybe a discussion about the history of the industry in the NT and how it needs to modernise and develop to prevent certain legacy and contamination issues.”