WA shale agreement torn up

THE Western Australian government’s historic 2012 deal with Buru Energy which promised to facilitate a shale gas boom to cash in on the hype that transformed the US’ manufacturing sector and world markets is no more.

WA shale agreement torn up Mark McGowan-led Labor banned fraccing in WA earlier this year.

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The US Energy Information Administration had assessed Australia's technically recoverable shale gas resources to be an eye-watering 437 trillion cubic feet in 2013.
 
In 2011 it estimated them to be 229Tcf, about 1.5 times WA's identified offshore resources at the time, when gas provided half of the state's domestic electricity generation.
 
Buru's permits had been assessed by independent consultants to contain more than 47Tcf of tight gas resources net to the company in one formation alone, and the State Agreement areas - EP371, 428, 431 and 436 - covered most of those identified resources for 25 years, with an option to extend for 25 more.
 
Buru managed to lure Japanese multinational Mitsubishi Corporation in a $150 million deal in 2010 to a joint venture to help explore what was termed the "Canning Superbasin", where the gas would travel to the gas pipeline at Port Hedland where it would then enter the domestic market under the aforementioned agreement with the state government. 
 
There was also the potential for the development of local industry in the Kimberley using gas from the program.
 
Buru was targeting the Laurel Formation with junior New Standard Energy for shale and tight gas potential, where the State Agreement provided certainty on infrastructure and a path to market for the gas.
 
The purpose of the original State Agreement was to provide enhanced certainty of tenure over five exploration permits in the Canning Basin, with Mitsubishi and Buru intending to jointly develop a domestic gas project. 
 

Restructuring

 
Earlier this year, the companies restructured ownership of the exploration permits covered by the State Agreement and intend to proceed separately with projects in the region.
 
The agreement had been enshrined in the Natural Gas (Canning Basin Joint Venture) Agreement Act 2013, which the government yesterday started the process of terminating.
 
There was an obligation on Buru to deliver 1.5Tcf into the domestic market and gave them the rights to the pipeline corridor down the coast, and the deadline to do that was extended a couple of years ago.
 
However, with that deadline looming next year and inhibited by still relatively low oil prices and the frac ban, Energy News has learned that Buru, Mitsubishi and the government had the option of extending it again or terminating it, and the WA company figured it was better to be freed up to develop the gas at its own pace.
 
Indeed the Termination Agreement, which parliament will ratify next year, allows for Mitsubishi and Buru to retain ongoing security of their tenure, and they have agreed to await the outcome of the independent scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracture stimulation.
 
Premier Mark McGowan confirmed yesterday that the termination allowed both companies to "pursue their own commercial interests".
 
While the move could be read as a bad omen for the chances of the government lifting the ban once its independent review is done, the reality is that developing unconventionals in the Canning has always been a tough beast, with limited infrastructure and remoteness a notorious hassle.
 
The state's also-notorious red and green tape and length of time for approvals is another hindrance, while oil prices are yet to recover to the $100/bbl-plus level they were when all those investments were made.
 
Once the agreement is terminated, the permits will remain valid in their current form with EP 371, 428 and 436 continuing in force until July 30, 2023 and EP 391 will stay in force until January 31, 2024.
 
Though activists have claimed the move as a victory, Buru said this morning it would have "no effect" on its current operations or in relation to any of its activities, apart from fraccing which is needed to develop the shale and tight gas plays, which are on hold anyway.
 
While Buru expects the inquiry will return a similar finding to the numerous previous ones - that fraccing is safe if properly regulated, which the company believes it is under the current regime - it's "business as usual" until the results are known.
 
The termination agreement also entailed no additional work commitments to those already in place.
 

Promise of glory

 
In 2011, the promise of shale gas riches also enabled NSE to lure US major ConocoPhillips in a $US119 million farm-out for 46% then PetroChina in 2013 for 29% for its Southern Canning project targeting 48,000sq.km with shale, tight and we gas potential.
 
Further east in the Northern Territory, US major Hess committed $55 million to an unconventional play in the Georgina Basin, as had Statoil to the tune of $210 million in 2012.
 
Pre-Shell BG Group sank $130 million into the Cooper/Eromanga and French supermajor Total $190 million into the Amadeus, where Santos also committed $150 million to look for unconventionals.
 
Even Chevron looked further inland, committing to spend up to $349 million in 2013 to join Beach Energy's unconventional hunt in the Cooper/Eromanga.
 
It all fell in a heap, with one after the other leaving the scene as the US companies in particular refocused their onshore investments  back home, though Mitsubishi is still involved in the Canning as Japan still needs the gas, albeit not as much of it with its declining population growth.
 
Origin Energy also has a potential monster on its hands in the Beetaloo Sub-basin, but that's being held back by the NT's moratorium on fraccing, and the inquiry has been delayed.
 
Buru was trading down this morning to 28c.

 

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