Land use and access

Land use and access is critical for the development of the State’s industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas.

This information sheet provides an overview of the surface impacts of natural gas from shale and tight rock extraction activities and the rights of petroleum title holders and private land owners when negotiating land access.

What does a shale or tight gas well site look like?

A bird’s eye view of a typical well site during hydraulic fracture stimulation
A bird’s eye view of a typical well site during hydraulic fracture stimulation

A shale or tight gas well site typically requires 1.5 to 2 hectares of land to be cleared and site access (Engineering Energy: Unconventional Gas Production – A study of shale gas in Australia, ACOLA 2013).

A well pad is generally drilled in the centre of the clearing. Other equipment such as data monitoring vans, vehicles, sand and chemical storage units, pumping trucks and ponds are also found on site.

Once the drilling and hydraulic fracture stimulation activities are complete most of the equipment is removed from the site. Generally, all that remains visible at the surface  is a series of sealed valves approximately two metres high (located within a security fenced area). If the site has reached the production stage, it will also include a buried pipeline to transport the gas to a processing plant.

How many well sites are required to develop a shale or tight gas field?

The number of well sites required to develop a shale or tight gas field depends on the size of the gas field being targeted.

Advancements in horizontal drilling techniques now enable several wells to be drilled from one location, known as a well pad. These wells drill down for up to 5 km and then deviate horizontally for about 1 to 2 km once they reach the gas-bearing rock.

This significantly limits the footprint of surface activity, including the number of access tracks. For example, if a petroleum company drilled six shale gas wells from one well pad and used horizontal drilling, it is estimated one well pad would be required for every 225 hectares (2.25km²) of land within a discovered gas field¹. Therefore, well pads would be approximately 1.5 km apart from each other. No horizontal wells for hydraulic fracturing have yet been proposed in WA.

¹Engineering Energy: Unconventional Gas Production – A study of shale gas in Australia, ACOLA 2013.

What happens after the natural gas has been extracted?

An example of a well site during production
An example of a well site during production

Gas and/or oil can flow to a production well and into pipelines for 10 to 40 years. At the end of a well’s production life, the well is sealed with a series of cement and/or mechanical plugs, decommissioned and the site is rehabilitated.

How does a petroleum company gain access to land?

For the purposes of petroleum exploration and production, Western Australia releases vacant petroleum exploration areas for the grant of Petroleum Exploration Permits through a competitive bidding system (also known as acreage release).

Once the preferred applicant has been advised that their bid is successful they commence negotiations with the identified Native Title parties. 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 also typically engage with Aboriginal communities to plan access to land for operational activities. Aboriginal elders make an important contribution to heritage protection by taking part in heritage surveys, advising on cultural matters and acting as monitors during petroleum operations.

Prior to commencing any operational works, title holders are required to notify landowners and lessees of their proposed activities.

Parties with a legal interest in lease lands are entitled to reasonable compensation for damage to any improvements caused by the title holder. A petroleum title holder must agree on the compensation amount with the landowners/lessees within three months from the initial notice date.

If agreement cannot be reached within three months either party may apply to the Magistrates Court to determine a fair compensation arrangement.

What is a compensation agreement?

A compensation agreement between a petroleum company and a land owner/lessee can include a negotiated compensation for access to private land. Compensation is for the land owner/occupier being deprived of possession of the land and for damage to the land and/or improvements. Compensation can include financial and/or non-financial arrangements.

Agreements can also determine which areas of land can be accessed and how often, which entrance and access tracks vehicles are permitted to use and the land owner’s preferred method of communication.

Land owners are not entitled to royalties for minerals, oil or gas as these resources are owned by the Crown for the benefit of the State.

Western Australia’s peak industry bodies for agriculture and the oil and gas industry are working together to develop guidelines and tools to assist petroleum title holders and farmers to reach fair and equitable agreements (Source: Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia, Western Australian Farmers, Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association).

DMIRS expects title holders to engage early and often with all stakeholders including private land holders, lessees, shires and members of the community.

Is compensation available for holders of pastoral and other specified leases?

Pastoral leases, grazing leases, timber leases and leases for the use and benefit of Aboriginal inhabitants are not considered private land under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 (PGERA). However, there is still an entitlement to compensation for damage to any improvements on the lease lands, occasioned by the PGER title operations.

Compensation is not payable to the lessee for being deprived of the land, any damage to the land, severance of the land or rights-of-way easements. Also, lessees are not entitled to royalties for minerals, oil or gas as these resources are owned by the Crown for the benefit of the State.

The PGER registered holder(s) should notify the lessee of its proposed operations and determine the likelihood and extent of any damage to improvements, so that some mutually satisfactory arrangement can be reached.

Is written consent required to access land?

Title holders must obtain written consent from the land owner or trustee to access land that is:

  • private land not exceeding 2 000 m2 in extent; or
  • used as a cemetery or burial place; or
  • less than 150m in lateral distance from any cemetery or burial place, reservoir or any substantial improvement.

For more information check out Natural gas from shale and tight rock,  Email: shaleandtightgas@dmirs.wa.gov.au or Telephone +61 8 9222 3333

Land use and access - 836 Kb

Find out about the surface impacts of natural gas from shale or tight rock activities and the rights of private land owners and petroleum operators when negotiating land access