Western Australia’s (WA’s) natural gas from shale and tight rocks (shale and tight gas) industry is currently in the early stages of exploration and evaluation.
This information sheet provides an overview of where shale and tight gas resources are located and where exploration may occur.
Where are WA’s shale and tight gas resources located?
Natural gas from shale and tight rocks is typically located two to five kilometres underground.
WA is estimated to contain 8 trillion cubic metres (280 trillion cubic feet) of potential natural gas from shale and tight rocks. These resources are in the Kimberley, east Pilbara and Midwest regions (in the Canning and Perth basins).
Potential resources in the Gascoyne and Goldfield regions (Carnarvon and Officer basins) are still underexplored.
Where can shale and tight gas exploration activities occur?
Petroleum exploration activities occur within a petroleum title. Specific areas are generally released by the State twice a year through a competitive bidding process (see information sheet on Petroleum Acreage).
Petroleum titles are defined by latitude and longitude ‘blocks’ so 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 boundaries identify an area in which the title holder can apply to undertake activity. Activity cannot commence without approvals.
Once a company obtains a petroleum title, it must apply to Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) to conduct exploration activities.
DMIRS assesses applications to ensure proposed activities comply with State legislation relating to land access, public health, safety, the environment and water resources.
On average, a petroleum title holder’s exploration and production activities are temporary and take up less than 0.5 per cent of the total petroleum title. Potential impacts on communities or sensitive areas would trigger additional assessment processes.
What exploration activities are associated with shale and tight gas?
During the exploration stage, potential oil and gas resources are identified using a wide range of geological techniques, including aerial and seismic surveys.
A vertical exploration well is then generally drilled to test underground rock formations for oil and gas. If rock samples reveal the presence of oil or gas, operators may apply to conduct hydraulic fracture stimulation within a well to determine if the resource can be extracted. Prior to conducting hydraulic fracture stimulation the operator must submit an application to DMP for assessment and approval.
What shale and tight gas exploration activities have occurred to date?
Advancements in drilling technologies over the past decade have made deep shale and tight gas resources a more economically viable target for oil and gas operators. This has led to operators’ recent interest in shale and tight gas exploration in WA (see information sheet on hydraulic fracture stimulation).
Since 2005, 17 exploration wells have been drilled looking for shale and tight gas. Of these, seven underwent hydraulic fracture stimulation (fraccing), six in the Perth Basin and one in the Canning Basin.
The most recent well to undergo hydraulic fracture stimulation was in August 2012 (current as of July 2015).
What happens if a shale or tight gas resource is discovered during exploration?
If a petroleum resource is discovered during exploration, an operator can apply to DMP for a production licence. This application process may take up to two years to allow for government assessment and Native Title processes.