Chasing oil in the Perth Basin

“WE'RE used to it,” Triangle Energy’s Rob Towner sighed at Energy News’ inaugural round table, about the Perth Basin, held in November at SAP’s headquarters in Perth.

Staff Reporter

He had been told that after a solid half hour of domestic gas market discussion and the promise of the deeper Kingia sandstone and wider Permian fairway the talk would be getting around to oil.

Towner has been pursuing Perth Basin oil for years, ever since Triangle first took the legacy Cliff Head project in the offshore area of the basin in 2015. It now has four licences including the Cliff Head production licence and 45% of a fifth licence giving the company a 10, footprint across the basin.

It has been looking for a larger partner to join new drilling campaigns. The field is currently producing around 800 barrels of oil per day, but the onshore Arrowsmith facility Triangle took as part of the original transaction has capacity for up to 12,000bopd.

"We can bring what has been a very much an underdeveloped field, in other words there's been no wells drilled since the original production started, and bring those wells - there's two in particular at the moment - online in 2024 quickly and efficiently, increase production, extend the life of the field," Towner said.

"That's, in a roundabout way, the forward strategy for us at the moment."

Since finds like Waitsia and West Erregulla, the focus is largely on gas in the Perth Basin.

The last oil well drilled was over four years ago: Xanadu-1, an offshore wildcat drilled from the beach on limited 2D seismic.

The well found oil, but it was never commercialised, and things have moved on.

Norwest's former MD Shelley Robertson now heads up Energy for mining giant Mineral Resources, which partners with her former company at the Lockyer Deep-1 well that found significant gas shows at the beginning of September.

Whitebark moved to Canada, changed management and is now called Rex.

However, Towner wants to revivify oil exploration. As does Metgasco's Ken Aitken, which is partnering with Vintage at the onshore Cervantes will, targeting 15 million barrels of oil next year. It is close to the Jingemia oil field, which it will be tied into, providing there is a drilling success.

Aitken believes the opportunities for oil exploration and production in the south of Western Australia are undersold, while gas exploration for him remains a better deal on the east coast where supply crunches and higher prices are a daily reality for buyers and ongoing opportunity for the E&P sector.

"We're drilling a deviated well to minimise our - our footprint in - in the area, minimise land clearing. So we operate it on behalf of RCMA Australia. So we - we're paying 50% for a 30% interest," Aitken said, who has held varied roles in Perth Basin-focussed companies for over 15 years, including Origin Energy.

"Everybody's chasing gas right now in the Kingia, and I think probably Rob and I are the only ones chasing oil.

"So we want to rewrite some history books and bring the oil back into focus, and I think we've got a very good chance."

There is a slight hitch: no local refinery.

In October 2020 BP announced it was shutting its doors and would transition the decades-old Kwinana facility into a storage unit only. Now, it won't even store Triangle's oil.

"The planning for oil going back, I think, as far as 50 years in this state has been totally ignored, full stop. The fact that BPs closed and there is no out for any production of any oil or ..... looking forward two years is - is a state issue that needs to be addressed," Towner said.

"Given that we've got capacity to 12,000 barrels in our separation plant, that to me is actually a good positive point."

"There's still an opportunity in the short term to upgrade facilities, be it our Arrowsmith facility, be it the offshore facility, but more importantly the Geraldton Port which has got the base case infrastructure there.

"And it will require the state to be involved because it is a political situation. Triangle has been in discussions with the state and federal governments now since the BP refinery closed.

"The conflict is that we're all in the basin spending money under licence and it's a financial commitment, and under that commitment for oil there is nowhere to go and send that oil. So it's got to be fixed.

Triangle is planning its own 5000bopd modular refinery adjacent to Arrowsmith, and it recently entered front end engineering for the project, set to be done next year.

"It's not designed to take on the state's economy of diesel consumption... the market side of it there's always a market for oil as well, not just locally but obviously to export, which we're doing at the moment."

Aitken, whose company grew out of a New South Wales CSG play, has spent years at other companies trucking oil south for refining before export and describes BP as a "monopoly buyer".

"I was asked to take a significant discount on Brent crude. So when it shut down we were all a bit disappointed; however, we've got to look at it as an opportunity," he said.

"Oil's a fungible asset and it's very easy to sell. So I actually see the BP Kwinana shutting down... it's  now an opportunity for oil producers.

"It's also if we go via Geraldton to export the crude it's better for the road system because it's a three hour drive, four hour drive, south to Kwinana where Geraldton's an hour... that railway line goes all the way through to the port of Geraldton so it's a beautiful solution,"  he said.


This article is based on discussions during a special ENB roundtable discussion on the Perth Basin, held 23/11/2021 in Perth. 

















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