Empire executes controversial gov funding grants

NORTHERN Territory gas explorer Empire Energy has executed three grant agreements worth A$21 million from the federal government’s Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program, after receiving initial work program approvals from the NT government.
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Energy minister Angus Taylor on site at Empire Energy's Carpentaria-1 project in the Beetaloo.

Mark Tilly

Journalist

Mark Tilly

The grants were awarded to Empire's wholly-owned subsidiary, Imperial Oil & Gas, as part of the federal government gas-led recovery. 

The $50 million grant program, which Empire has solely received almost half of in the first round, will offset 25% of the cost of seismic acquisition and the drilling, fraccing and flow testing of three horizontal appraisal wells in the company's EP187 tenement in the Beetaloo Sub-Basin.

Grant 1 awards the company A$6.5 million for work related to Carpentaria-2; Grant 2 awards $6.8 million for Carpentaria-3 and Grant 3 awards $6 million for Carpentaira-4. 

Empire said this morning it had received work program approval from the NT government for the portions of its EP187 environment plan, which include civil construction and seismic surveys in preparation for the appraisal drilling program, which it expects to kick off in the coming days. 

Approval for the drilling and fraccing components of the permit are expected to be granted in a matter of weeks, the company said. 

Empire noted that if appraisal work is successful, the funding will help it increase the contingent resources in EP187 and determine commercial flow rates from the Velkerri shale formation within EP187 and will help leverage commercial gas sales agreements and production licence awards. 

The grants program has been referred by the Labor opposition to the Auditor-General, after a Greens-led senate inquiry alleged a conflict of interest as a result of the connections between Empire's executive team and the Liberal party. 

Resources minister and Nationals party member, Keith Pitt, who oversees the program, has flatly rejected the claims. 

Empire Energy has stressed that it followed the due process when applying for the funding and said the company made no secret of the company's political affiliations. 

While Labor referred the government's Beetaloo Drilling Program to the Auditor-General, it blocked a motion in Parliament that would disallow funding from it to be granted.   

Meanwhile, Empire is finalising preparations to restart flow testing operations at its Carpentaria-1 well later this month, after it was shut in due to COVID-related restrictions in the Territory. 

"The results of the flow testing program will generate important data for Empire's technical team as it decides which of the four productive Velkerri shale zones to land the first horizontal appraisal well into," the company said.