Santos Awarded Exploration Permits Offshore Australia

Three new offshore petroleum exploration permits for areas off the Victorian coast are expected to generate about $153 million in exploration activities over the next six years. The new permits for the Otway Basin in Commonwealth waters south of Portland in Victoria were jointly announced by Federal Resources Minister, Ian Macfarlane, and Victoria's Minister for Energy and Resources, Candy Broad.

Permit VIC/P51 was awarded to Santos Limited and Inpex Alpha Ltd and VIC/P52 was awarded to Santos Ltd, Unocal South Asean Ltd and Inpex Alpha Ltd. In addition, VIC/P50 has been offered to Essential Petroleum Resources Ltd and is expected to be accepted in the near future.

"These permit areas have only been subject to limited drilling in the past, with no exploration drilling. However, their proximity to Victorian and South Australian gas markets and to the La Bella, Minerva, Thylacine and Geographe gas discoveries has generated a wealth of new interest in the region," said Mr. Macfarlane. The work programs proposed by the successful bidders, including seismic acquisition and exploration wells, will lead to a rapid expansion in knowledge of petroleum potential of the offshore Otway Basin.

"Understanding the petroleum potential of the area is essential to meeting Australia’s future energy needs. I am confident this exploration can be conducted in a manner that avoids any adverse impact on Australia’s marine environment," he said.

Care has been taken to ensure the unique environment in this area is fully protected. Bidders have been made aware that parts of the area coincide with a Blue Whale feeding area and any proposals to conduct exploration within the feeding period will be subject to especially high levels of environmental scrutiny under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The areas have been released under the 2001 release of offshore petroleum exploration areas, announced in April last year (bidding closed in April 2002). Further announcements about the award of permits under the April 2002 closing round are expected to be made shortly.