New Offshore Australia Exploration Agreage Up for Grabs

The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM MP, has announced the release of 31 new offshore petroleum exploration areas and two special areas in Commonwealth waters.

Speaking at the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association's New Frontiers conference in Darwin, Minister Ferguson said there is nothing more important to the industry and Australia's future wealth, than keeping the exploration sector strong and building project development opportunities.

Minister Ferguson said, "We must not forget that the long-term outlook for oil and gas is one of enormous demand growth. Investment in exploration and production must continue through the present economic downturn."

The 2009 release areas are located across five basins off the Northern Territory, Western Australian, South Australian and Victorian coastlines. The release also includes two special release areas that are known to contain hydrocarbons. These special areas are located over the Turtle and Barnett discoveries offshore Western Australia and Northern Territory. Six of the 2009 release areas have been selected as Designated Frontier Areas.

As announced in the Budget, the Government will extend the Designated Frontier Areas incentive in the petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) by one year. This incentive allows an immediate 150% uplift on PRRT deductions for exploration expenditure incurred in designated offshore frontier areas.

The six Designated Frontier Areas include three large deepwater areas on the northern Exmouth Plateau offshore from Western Australia. The Exmouth Plateau is the deepwater frontier of the Carnarvon Basin, Australia's premier hydrocarbon province containing major gas fields such as Jansz and Scarborough. Three out of six deepwater exploration wells drilled in the area in 2008 resulted in significant gas discoveries.

The other three Designated Frontier Areas are in the central Great Australian Bight off South Australia, which is truly a new frontier with no nearby permits currently held.

Bids for 18 of the new areas and the two special release areas close on December 3, 2009, with bids for the remaining 13 areas closing on April 29, 2010. All bids are assessed under the work program bidding system and will be awarded for an initial term of six years.