Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game

OIL and gas, as far as Slugcatcher can remember, never featured in an episode of that fabulous 1980s British comedy series Yes Minister, but recent events in Australia are perfect for an oily revival, with another twist as rather than one bumbling Minister there could be two.
Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game Slugcatcher on the return of Yes Minister, in the great oil game

Canning’s thousand-job potential based on one stratigraphic test 


Focus of the script would be plans to drill a stratigraphic test well in the south-west corner of the Canning Basin of WA, complete with glowing Ministerial testimonials and hints that something big awaits discovery.
But rounding off the story is a cameo performance by some of The Slugs' colleagues in the media who have displayed an even greater ignorance of the oil and gas industry than the Ministers.
The opening scene in "Yes Ministers, The Great Oil Game" is a breathless announcement from Federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, and his State equivalent, the WA Petroleum Minister, Bill Johnson.
It was these two, no doubt advised by media secretaries and political spin doctors, who issued the original statement which said the 2200 metre test well would "help scope out exciting new resources in the (Canning Basin) region, paving the way for new investment and jobs".
No harm done there, though the next phase of the joint statement cited a Geoscience Australia estimate of there being the potential for 43 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil in the Canning, plus 390 trillion cubic feet of gas is when eyebrows start to rise.
But how relevant is it to quote potential recoverable resources for something that would require decades of drilling, perhaps hundreds of holes, and even then find that the remote location means the entire exercise is uneconomic because there is a very limited local markets and abundant nearby conventional offshore oil and gas competition.
The formal statement, however, only forms the opening scene of "Yes Ministers, The Great Oil Game", with the next scene being an even more breathless story in a WA newspaper which apparently received a briefing from Canavan, or a spokesman.
The starting point for the newspaper story is the headline: "Boom Service: Potential Jobs Bonanza From Oil Project".
Almost unbelievable isn't it. A relatively shallow stratigraphic test costing a few million dollars is said to be the precursor to a jobs bonanza - before it is drilled, before anything is discovered, and before it can be shown to be economic.
Later scenes in the remake of Yes Minister lean heavily on the original statement and the stunning story but before getting to those it is worth asking a serious question: Has anyone in the federal or state governments corrected the flawed media report, or the comments attributed to the ministers which might have raised expectations in the community that the oil and gas industry was about to start looking for thousands of workers?
The answer to that question, unless something is buried away somewhere in a Ministerial file note appears to be no, the original story stands, and that's why The Slug reckons his readers ought to see more so they can appreciate the gravity and humour of the situation.
Canavan, according to the news story, reckons the stratigraphic test: "would be a game changer for the state economically but also for the nation as a whole".
Yep, that's right, one stratigraphic test which, as its name implies is simply to test underlying rock units, and not very deep ones at that, might change the future of an entire country.
Reading on: "If this is as large as our geologists expect it to be it will mean hundreds of thousands of jobs for WA," Senator Canavan, said.
If Canavan really did say that then The Slug is stunned because he cannot imagine any geologists in the private sector, or working for a government agency such as Geoscience Australia sticking their necks out and predicting what might be found and how a discovery might create "hundreds of thousands of jobs".
The Ministers were not alone in their excitement. Even the chief executive of the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy, Paul Everingham, chimed in with a media comment which, if reported correctly, went like this:
"This is a huge vote of confidence from the Federal and state governments in the potential of the Canning Basin," Everingham said. "If tapped, (it) could become a globally significant hydrocarbon province."
Unfortunately for everyone involved they have potentially done more harm to the oil industry than good by over-hyping what is nothing more than a scientific test which is a million miles from commercial reality, building community expectations which are more likely to be crushed than realised.
The cheer squad has also fallen for the trap into which the late Armand Hammer fell a lifetime ago when he was chief executive of Occidental Petroleum when it discovered the Blina oilfield near Derby in the Canning Basin, describing it as "the best since Libya".
It wasn't, and nothing in the onshore Canning has ever some close to being a world class discovery.
But, hey, let's not get a few facts sneak into this return of Yes Minister, even if both Canavan and Johnston should be told: "No Minister!"