The northern Perth basin, a geological formation underlying the western parts of the Mid West and Wheatbelt of WA, has been identified by the gas industry as a priority target for exploitation. With over 270,000 petajoules of potential unconventional gas under 31 petroleum and exploration licences, there is interest from a host of companies, both local and international. Scroll down to read a specific overview for each area.
Exploration and production at small scale has been taking place for years, yet recently has seen a ramp up of activities, with over 15,000 square kilometres of land currently being targeted for oil & gas exploration. We know from experience that when the petroleum industry gets a foothold, they push forward creating widespread industrialisation. When the conventional gas or oil stops flowing, they will go back over a region with unconventional techniques like hydraulic fracture stimulation, or fracking, horizontal drilling and possible other techniques to extract the gas that’s trapped inside tight limestone or shale rock.
Currently there are no formal plans to frack in this region, but the government has not banned it, and companies have not ruled it out in future. These petroleum companies are currently producing conventional oil & gas and exploring in other parts of the basin.
What's At Risk?
Oil & gas fields threaten farmland, culturally significant sites, natural areas and communities. Much of this region is Yued Noongar country, with the northern part being Yamatji country.
There are significant underground aquifers, and much of the area is currently mixed use farm land for grain, livestock and horticulture farms. There are also semi-rural estates, small towns, mineral and sand mines, nature reserves, and national parks known for some of the most diverse flora in Australia (including Lesueur, and Nambung National Park where the Pinnacles are located). This area also includes the city of Geraldton, the larger town of Moora, and the coastal tourist and fishing towns such as Dongara-Port Denison, Jurien Bay, Cervantes and Guilderton.
In WA, fracking is only banned in the South West, Peel and Perth metro area. A ban is also promised for the Dampier Peninsula area north of Broome, but the boundary remains disputed.
The areas in the Agriculture region that the McGowan Government lifted the moratorium on fracking in late 2018 are the petroleum leases that cover large areas within the Shires of Gingin, Chittering, Victoria Plains, Moora, Dandaragan, Coorow, Carnamah, Three Springs, Morawa, Mingenew, Irwin and the City of Greater Geraldton. This also includes the towns Eneabba, Dongara-Port Denison and Greenough. This means that once the WA Government’s promised inquiry actions are complete, fracking can go ahead in these areas following EPA assessment.
Outside of the existing petroleum lease areas the only hurdle for gas companies to clear is a moratorium on fracking, which is a temporary ban that provides little protection and certainty for communities, due to the ability of the government to swiftly lift this ban and pave the way for gas companies.
Unconventional gas exploration and fracking was already underway in Western Australia under previous Governments, with at least 12 exploration wells fracked between 2004 and 2016. The majority of these fracking operations were located in the Mid West region, which was named ground zero for fracking gasfield development in WA until the moratorium came in from 2017.
During the current McGowan government’s tenure we are yet to see an onshore well fracked in the state (as of 2021), yet a slew of gas companies have been lining up to frack the Kimberley with many proposals currently under assessment by the EPA. Some companies have even received worrying encouragement from the government in the form of things like exclusions from gas export bans.
Read more about farming at risk in the northern Perth basin, in our Farming Not Fracking report (2020, PDF).
This gas basin is close to existing petroleum industry infrastructure, with two major gas pipelines (Dampier-Bunbury, Parmelia) passing through the region, and gas processing plants in Irwin and Gingin. There are ports at Geraldton and Perth. There are multiple new plans to expand the infrastructure in the region, including a gas processing plant near Arrino, with a side pipeline to connect to the existing north-south pipeline.
Gas Projects and Prospects
Geraldton, Irwin, Mingenew, Three Springs - Current activity
Between Geraldton and Dongara, Key Petroleum are preparing for oil and gas exploration activity with the Bookara 3D seismic survey. This will cover an area of 217km2 over a large part of Allanooka, which is Geraldton and Dongara’s public drinking water source area. This survey will involve thumper trucks sending vibrations through the ground to detect (more) oil and gas, so the company can make plans for further drilling. Meanwhile, the flippantly named ‘Wye Not-1’ well, has been planned by Key Petroleum near Bookara but appears to be on hold.
Strike Energy is one of the most active companies in the region and holds ~3200km2 of licences in the Midwest and Wheatbelt. They have drilled three wells this year, two of them in the Shire of Three Springs at the West Erregulla field near Arrino, bringing the total wells there to four, with another 11 planned. They have also submitted plans for a gas processing plant and pipeline in the same area, with their partner Warrego Energy.
Keen for a market for their gas, Strike are planning to build an ammonia/urea production facility in Geraldton, approximately 2kms from residential areas. They mostly plan to use fossil gas to produce this urea, and plan to export it through Geraldton Port.
Mineral Resources is another active company which holds ~7200km2 of licenses, the most of any other company in the Midwest and Wheatbelt, under their subsidiary name Energy Resources. This year they have drilled one well near Mingenew. The Lockyer Deep well ran into issues whilst drilling and constructing the cement casing, there was a significant failure where the cement did not reach the desired areas before setting. This meant that the main production well was cemented off, the driller had to mill out the cement and re-cement the casing. This caused significant delays and cost the joint venture with Norwest Energy $5million extra.
Gingin and Dandaragan Shires - Current activity
Further south in the Shire of Dandaragan, Strike Energy are drilling a well at Walyering near Cataby within metres of a water tributary, close to Brand Highway.
Mineral Resources have conducted multiple Seismic Surveys across the regions, “Romanesque and Black Cormorant” in the Shire of Gingin where land was cleared and seismic trucks entered and tested near wetlands of significance to the area. The Raven survey next to the Pinnacles (Nambung NP) in the Shire of Dandaragan was a significant example of the potential of people power to influence project proposals. The survey proposal was opened for public comment by the EPA back in May 2020 and after strong opposition, the proposal has seemingly not progressed since the EPA announced they would assess it, almost 1.5 years later.
Whitebark have listed their retention lease over the Warro gasfield in the Shire of Dandaragan near Watheroo, for sale after they left Australia favouring projects in Canada and citing significant delays due to the Fracking Moratorium and new legislation coming in for WA.
You can get involved with the campaign to protect WA from fracking and gasfields here.