For the purposes of petroleum exploration and production, Western Australia (WA) releases vacant petroleum exploration areas for the grant of Petroleum Exploration Permits through a competitive bidding system (also known as acreage release).
Releases are generally made twice a year for the areas within the State’s jurisdiction.
Legislation stipulates that petroleum acreage is released in ‘blocks’, also known as graticular sections, which are approximately 80km2. It is not uncommon for these ‘blocks’ to overlap sensitive areas such as national parks, coastal or heritage listed areas, town sites and drinking water areas.
The initial grant of a Petroleum Exploration Permit is for a period of six years. This provides title holders with the right to apply to the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) to conduct exploration activities within the boundaries of a particular petroleum title. This in no way guarantees an automatic ‘right to enter’.
Once the preferred applicant has been advised that their bid is successful and agrees to uphold the principals of ‘good faith negotiation’ then the Native Title Act 1993 ‘future act’ process commences.
Generally, a title cannot be granted until a Native Title agreement is reached or a determination is made by the National Native Title Tribunal.
Title holders are aware that government permission to enter and drill in sensitive or significant areas is highly unlikely. Some acreage releases also carry special notices in regard to sensitive areas within the title area.
Proposed activity within a Title
Petroleum title holder’s exploration and production activities are temporary and generally take up less than 0.5 per cent of the total petroleum title.
DMIRS assesses applications for exploration and production activities on a case-by-case basis, with consideration given to the extent and appropriateness of each activity, to ensure the proposed activities comply with State legislation relating to land access, public health, the environment and water resources.
All proposed activities are subject to strict, multi-agency approvals regarding environmental, health and safety matters. Potential impacts on communities or sensitive areas trigger additional assessment processes.
As part of DMIRS’s approvals process, permit holders are required to submit an environment plan which is a legally binding management document containing the company’s environmental risk assessment and details of any potential impact to flora, fauna and water resources.
The Department of Water provides specialist and technical advice to DMIRS in regard to potential impacts on water resources and catchment areas.
The Environmental Protection Authority may also be required to provide independent advice during the assessment process.
Consultation and formal notice
It is common practice for DMIRS to consult with other State and Commonwealth government agencies, port authorities, local shires, Determined Native Title Claimants/Holders, Native Title Representative Bodies and Prescribed Body Corporates for comment. Comments received are considered by DMIRS and, where appropriate, they are included in special notices in the acreage release.
Title holders are responsible for ensuring that the interference with the rights and activities of other land users as a result of proposed petroleum activities is minimised.
State acreage releases are formalised through the publication of a notice in the Western Australia Government Gazette and details of releases are published on the DMIRS website and in release packages which are available on request from DMIRS.
Subject to the transitional provisions of the relevant Act, the renewal of an exploration permit for a further five year period requires the title holder to relinquish 50 per cent of the existing graticular blocks. The relinquished blocks may be included in a future acreage release.