Applying for State geothermal acreage
Geothermal acreage is available across Western Australia. The application process is different than the competitive bidding acreage release process used with petroleum-related permits. Rather than particular permit areas being opened up for acreage, operators can apply to obtain acreage over particular regions by request. Essentially, all areas in the State are available except those under title or under assessment. Acreage for geothermal exploration may be obtained through a Geothermal Special Prospecting Authority with Acreage Option (GSPA/AO) until further notice.
Applications should be made to the Department of Mines and Petroleum, which should also include the appropriate fee. The fee is refundable if the application is unsuccessful. Applications are to be made online via the Petroleum and Geothermal Register (PGR).
Geothermal Special Prospecting Authority with Acreage Option
The Geothermal Special Prospecting Authority (GSPA) is a non-renewable title granted for up to six months for the purpose of conducting a geothermal energy resource exploration activity. These authorities are limited in time to a specific exploration activity (e.g. a seismic survey or magnetotelluric survey) and cannot be dealt (i.e. cannot be transferred or encumbered). More than one GSPA can occur over the same area.
On expiry of the GSPA term, proponents have a further six months to take up the Acreage Option and apply for either a Geothermal Exploration Permit or Geothermal Drilling Reservation. It is important to note that the Acreage Option must form part of the GSPA application and cannot be applied for retrospectively. Accordingly, a GSPA may be granted for exploration work (other than drilling a well) as a preliminary to an applicant exercising the option to submit an application for a geothermal exploration permit or drilling reservation.
Once the GSPA/AO period has expired, the data acquired is to be made publicly available.
Area size and survey activity
The minimum number of (5’ x 5’) contiguous graticular blocks deemed acceptable for a GSPA is 4 blocks and the maximum number is 160 blocks. The survey activity should take place over an area equal to the number of blocks in the application. The AO is often on a reduced area based on the results of the survey activity.
A geothermal well is not permitted under a GSPA. If the company is drilling under a separate title or licence (e.g. mineral tenement or Department of Water licence), it would be possible to apply for a GSPA to conduct a survey, such as a downhole Vertical Seismic Profile Survey, utilising these holes, provided no drilling is undertaken under the GSPA.
Assessment of applications for Geothermal Special Prospecting Authority with Acreage Option
The Department of Mines and Petroleum's acceptance of each GSPA/AO application is on a case-by-case basis. Generally, the acceptance of a GSPA application, and grant of title, will depend upon the rationale and merits of the proposed program, the applicant’s financial and technical capability, and supportable evidence provided.
Applications are subject to the same criteria for assessment, permit conditions and administration as for exploration permit or drilling reservation applications under the competitive bidding system, wherein they pledge a program of work and the grant is made (or not) on the efficacy of that work program.
The grant of a GSPA/AO prevents the area being subject to a bidding round, until the Geothermal Exploration Permit or Geothermal Drilling Reservation application period has expired. The acceptance of an associated AO is also at the Minister’s discretion, as some surveys may not be regarded as worthy of such exclusivity.
The AO is only extended to the application for a title and does not infer any obligation on the part of the Minister to grant a Geothermal Exploration Permit or Geothermal Drilling Reservation.
Geothermal Drilling Reservation
Assessment conditions and administration follow closely those for exploration permits. A Geothermal Drilling Reservation is granted for a period not exceeding three years. The essential difference between a Geothermal Exploration Permit or Geothermal Drilling Reservation is that a well cannot be varied out of the work program, and that the Geothermal Drilling Reservation can only be extended (a further 12 months) if a well is in progress or to enable the conversion of any discovery made to a Geothermal Production Licence or Geothermal Retention Lease.
Geothermal Exploration and Production is administered under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967. The Act allows explorers to apply for a GSPA with, or without, an AO in addition to the practice of acreage which was formerly released under the competitive bidding system.
GSPAs which involve ground disturbing work (including seismic surveys) are not subject to the Right to Negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act 1993. However, proponents will be prohibited from entering lands where native title rights and interest in that land has not been fully extinguished, except with the consent of the native title group.
Explorers are encouraged to liaise with the Department of Mines and Petroleum's, Petroleum Division at the earliest opportunity so any potential difficulties or constraints may be considered before the proposed commencement date.
For more information contact: