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Petroleum exploration licences

Much of the state’s onshore prospective acreage is covered by 44 Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs – area currently 202,728 sqkm) in the productive Otway and Cooper-Eromanga basins, the frontier Officer, Arrowie, Stansbury and Arckaringa basins, and over basins with coal seam gas and underground (in situ) coal gasification potential such as the Telford Basin (Leigh Creek).

The right to negotiate (RTN), Indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) and legislation-specific processes consistent with the federal Native Title Act 1993 have been effective in South Australia. In the case of RTN and ILUA processes to the end of 2018, the relevant registered native title claimants, petroleum explorers and the state government have concluded 55 RTN agreements, and 12 companies have signed up to 11 ILUAs with the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka and the Wangkangurru Yarluyandi peoples, enabling the subsequent grant of PELs. A successful conclusion to the current negotiations with the Dieri people will see conjunctive petroleum ILUAs covering the whole of the South Australian Cooper Basin.

All South Australian land access agreements cover the full cycle of petroleum activities including exploration, development and production. Legislation-specific, RTN and ILUA processes are being instigated in other parts of the state on a priority basis. Work programs and licence documents for granted licences, including the terms prescribed in native title access agreements, are available on the Petroleum website

For information on current licences and applications, please refer to the Holders of Petroleum and Geothermal Tenements in SA information sheet.

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Petroleum production licences

Onshore, as of the end of 2018 there were 224 petroleum production licences (PPLs) in place over the Cooper and Otway Basins.

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Petroleum retention licences

Four petroleum retention licences (PRLs) were current in the Otway Basin and 211 in the Cooper Basin at the end of 2018. Operators of PELs within Cooper Basin proven play trends may apply for PRLs to get more time to reduce economic and/or subsurface uncertainties to progress to production. PRLs offer five-year terms including an exploration and appraisal work program and no acreage drop on renewal.

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Associated activities licences for petroleum

(previously associated facilities licences)

A total of 58 associated activities licences (AALs) were current at the end of 2018. Most AALs were granted to enable either the recording of full-fold seismic to a licence boundary by recording tails of seismic lines outside of the exploration licence, or to construct flowlines or production facilities adjacent to existing PPLs or PRLs.

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Gas storage licences

There are currently 9 Gas Storage Exploration Licences (GSELs) current in the Cooper Basin, 12 GSELs and 38 GSELAs in the Officer Basin, 14 GSELs in the Simpson Basin, 4 GSELs in the Pedirka Basin. one located in the vicinity of Leigh Creek  as well as one GSEL and one gas storage retention licence (GSRL) in the Otway Basin. No royalties are levied for gas stored as an incentive for carbon dioxide geosequestration projects.

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Special facilities licences

Nine Special Facilities Licences (SFLs) were current as at the end of 2018. A Special Facilities Licence authorises the licensee to establish and operate facilities for the purposes involving or associated with searching for a regulated substance, processing a regulated substance, producing or generating energy from a source of geothermal energy or other activities that may be relevant or incidental to searching for or processing a regulated substance, producing or storing a regulated substance or product derived from a regulated substance.

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Royalties and production

Petroleum royalty payments to the State in financial year 2017-18 were $85.9m, with estimated total product sales of $1,199m.  This brings the cumulative royalty paid since 1970 to $3.02b (2017/18 dollars) and cumulative sales to an estimated $50.05b (2017/18 dollars). Since 1991 the average royalty paid equals 6.70% of the sales value.

For Production statistics and more see

The State’s oil production trends were declining until 2002 when new technology and a resurgence in drilling activity led to discoveries along new play trends e.g. the Cooper Basin western flank. Beach Energy became the largest net oil producer in the Cooper Basin in 2013.  Gas sales peaked in 1989, were at a plateau for 10 years, and have been declining since 1998, however new plays in unconventional reservoirs such as deep coals, tight sands, lacustrine shales and composite lithology plays  in the Cooper Basin could reverse this trend.

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Petroleum drilling and seismic

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that petroleum exploration spending in South Australia totalled $108 million in the 12 months to June 2018.

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The South Australian Cooper – Eromanga basins have significant potential for natural gas in unconventional reservoirs, and if proven to be economic, the development of related gas plays could extend production for decades. Prospective plays include: gas in deep coals; gas in stacked low permeability (tight) reservoirs including shale, siltstone, tight sandstones and coal; and shale gas shale.

Explorers have accelerated appraisal of Cooper Basin resource plays. Gas explorers have been encouraged with results from the first 37 vertical and 6 horizontal wells drilled to target natural gas in deep unconventional reservoirs in the South Australian Cooper Basin since 2010. In December 2012, Beach Energy spudded Holdfast, the first dedicated horizontal well to test shale gas deliverability in the State. Fracture stimulation and flow testing programs have also gathered pace.

Santos Ltd

Santos JV drilled and suspended all 45 appraisal and development wells and 2 exploration wells in production licences during 2018.

Beach Energy Ltd

Beach Energy has drilled 6 appraisal and 10 development wells in 2018. Beach has had success in their exploration program with discoveries in their Coalinga and Webb wells.

Senex Energy Ltd

Senex completed drilling of 3 appraisal and 2 development well 2018. Breguet 1 exploration well was an oil discovery.

Leigh Creek Operations Pty Ltd

Leigh Creek Energy drilled 20 UCG exploration wells in the Telford Basin

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Geophysical and geochemical surveys

Offshore exploration permits for petroleum

Exploration in the state’s offshore basins is ramping up with major international explorers completing large seismic surveys in their EPPs and preparing to drill deep exploration wells from 2020-21.  potential for giant petroleum accumulations in the Bight Basin where recognised exploration targets are similar to those in prolific gas–oil provinces elsewhere in the world. Nine exploration permits for petroleum (EPPs) were current in federal waters adjacent to South Australia at the end October 2015.

Equinor Australia B.V. currently holds two permit (EPPs 39 and 40) in the Bight Basin and are currently due to drill the first exploration well in the summer of 2020-21.

Two permits (EPPs 41 and 42) in the Duntroon and Ceduna sub-basins of the Bight Basin were awarded to Bight Petroleum Pty Ltd on 7 July 2011.

EPP 43 was awarded to Murphy Australia Oil Pty Ltd and Santos Offshore Pty Ltd on 22 October 2013.

EPPs 44 and 45 were awarded to Chevron Australia New Ventures Pty Ltd on 22 October 2013. Chevron announced their withdrawal from the Bight Basin in October 2017.

In October 2016 Karoon Gas Australia Ltd was awarded exploration permit EPP 46 covering 17,793 square kilometres of the Ceduna Subā€Basin, in the Great Australian Bight.

Coal seam gas

Coal measures in South Australia are primarily of Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Tertiary age, and while most known deposits have been evaluated for coal extraction potential, few have been evaluated for coal seam gas potential (CSG). The depth and maturity of the coal deposits and distance to infrastructure and markets has prevented economic exploitation of all except Leigh Creek. Over the last 20 years, coal research in the state has focused on proving up known deposits for mining and power generation, and only limited greenfield coal exploration has taken place.

Interest has been shown by a number of companies to explore for CSG in South Australia over the last five years.. Currently there are twelve PELs and six PEL applications under consideration for exploration rights to evaluate the CSG potential and/or underground coal gasification potential of South Australian coals. Known South Australian coal deposits and relevant PELs and PEL applications are located in Figure 6. The determination of some PELs is delayed pending resolution of native title land access agreements. The three companies exploring for coal seam methane and/or in situ gasification opportunities in South Australia are listed below.

SAPEX Pty Limited

SAPEX Pty Limited (now a Tri-Star Energy Company subsidiary) was granted PELs 117–119 and 121–124 in the Arckaringa Basin and PEL 120 over the St Vincent and Walloway Basins in September 2006. The company has more recently been focusing on an oil shale play in the Stuart Range Formation and  conventional oil plays in the Arckaringa Basin after oil shows were recorded in the Maglia 1 well.

PELs 123 and 124 were renewed by SAPEX Pty Limited for a further 5 year term in October 2015.

Energy Exploration Limited

PELs 126 and 153 were granted to Energy Exploration Pty Ltd in April 2014 over the Lock coal and Mullaquana coal–oil shale deposits (Polda Basin).

Leigh Creek Operation Pty Ltd

Granted PEL 650 located over the Leigh Creek coal field in November 2014.

For more information, contact:

Elinor Alexander
Director Geoscience & Exploration Branch
Energy Resources Division

+61 8 8429 2436