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7 May 2021


The Energy Resources Division in the South Australian Department for Energy and Mining is the lead agency for petroleum, geothermal and carbon capture and storage activities in the state. It has responsibility for the generation of royalty income, economic development, wealth and jobs, public safety and the minimisation of impacts on the environment through efficient management of the state's petroleum and geothermal rights on behalf of the people of South Australia.

Petroleum exploration and production activity

Onshore petroleum licensing

Petroleum exploration licences

Forty-two petroleum exploration licences (PELs) are current over the State’s onshore petroleum prospective areas.  Nearly all of the petroleum prospective regions of the State are now under licence or application with the total area of granted PELs covering 190,856 km2 and a further 434,175 km2 of the State under application (Figure 1).

Overlapping applications can be made over current PEL Applications (PELAs) at any time but the first PELA has priority for determination followed by successive applications.

Information about how to apply, the licence register and maps showing current licences and applications can be accessed in the Onshore licensing section.

Figure 1. South Australian petroleum tenements.

Figure 1: South Australian petroleum tenements

Acreage releases

Competitive acreage releases have been used successfully by the Department to manage highly prospective Cooper Basin acreage since 1998. The expiry of long term exploration licenses (PELs 5 and 6) enabled the most significant structured release of onshore Australian acreage in the industry’s history, and has generated (in today’s terms):

  • 44 PELs and 5 PELAs and resultant PPLs and PRLs from 89,100 km2 of acreage,
  • $834 million in guaranteed work,
  • 298 conventional exploration wells - 40% of which achieved commercial success,
  • 142 new field discoveries,
  • royalties of $567.1  million from sales of $8.7 billion to 30 June 2020, and
  • increased gas supply-side competition.

The most recent acreage releases occurred in 2019 in the Cooper and Otway basins. The successful applicants for the five Cooper Basin blocks and one of the three blocks offered in the onshore Otway Basin were announced in June 2020.

Most Cooper Basin applicants (blocks CO2019-A to E) will have to conclude Native Title land access agreements ahead of licence grant – either via the ILUA process or the right to negotiate process (Figure 2). PEL 680 has been granted to Beach Energy and Cooper Energy in the Otway Basin (formerly OT2019-B block).

Petroleum retention licences

An initiative in 2013 to increase the extent of retention and production licences has been very successful resulting in a massive increase from 7,645 km2 in 2013, up to the current 17,107 km2 in April 2021.  There are currently 210 petroleum retention licences, with almost all of these located over proven productive oil and gas play trends in the Cooper/Eromanga Basins (Figure 2).  Petroleum retention licence agreements for proven oil and gas play trends in the Cooper/Eromanga Basins have to date been concluded with Senex Energy, Beach Energy, Drillsearch Energy (now a Beach Energy subsidiary), Santos Limited and Armour Energy (and joint venture partners with those companies).

Since the first of the PRL initiative licences were granted in May 2014 to end April 2021, 45 exploration wells have been drilled resulting in 19 new field discoveries.  A further 33 appraisal wells have been drilled (19 successful) and 9 development wells (8 successful).

Figure 2. Map showing Cooper Basin tenements, drilling and seismic acquisition in 2019-20

Figure 2: Map showing Cooper Basin tenements, drilling and seismic acquisition in 2019-20


On 11 February 2021 the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Regulations 2013 were amended to declare hydrogen, hydrogen compounds and by-products from hydrogen production regulated substances under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000. Companies are now able to apply to explore for hydrogen via a PEL and the transmission of hydrogen or compounds of hydrogen are now permissible under the transmission pipeline licencing provisions of the PGE Act.

Potential exists for native hydrogen plays in South Australia - possible source rocks occur in iron-rich cratons (hydrogen generated by oxidation of Fe(II) by water) and uranium-rich basement (hydrogen generated via radiolysis of water), both of which occur on the Gawler Craton.

In September 2019, South Australia’s Hydrogen Action Plan was launched with an initial focus on ‘green’ hydrogen from renewable energy sources. Santos are progressing clean hydrogen and by 2030 aim to use Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to improve the economic feasibility of clean hydrogen while reducing Cooper Basin emissions.

SA offers a Free Hydrogen Export Prospectus and Online Modelling Tool and Prospectus (released October 2020).

Native Title and land access

Right to Negotiate

To date, the relevant registered native title claimants/holders, petroleum explorers and the State Government have concluded 55 land access agreements in relation to a total of 51 licence areas:

  • 7 in the Arckaringa Basin;
  • 37 in the Cooper Basin;
  • 4 in the Eromanga Basin;
  • 1 in the Officer Basin; and
  • 2 in the Arrowie Basin.

All of these South Australian agreements cover the full cycle of petroleum activities including exploration, development and production.  An additional twelve PEL applications are currently progressing through the Right to Negotiate process, pursuant to the Native Title Act 1993 or will alternatively enter into an existing Indigenous Land Use Agreement.

Conjunctive Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs)

The following conjunctive ILUAs are in place over much of the Cooper Basin:

  • In February 2007, the Yandruwandha/Yawarrawarrka people entered into the first petroleum ILUA in the South Australian Cooper Basin over approximately 40,000 km2.  This agreement also represented the first conjunctive petroleum ILUA in a productive province in Australia.
  • On 2 February 2012, a second conjunctive petroleum ILUA with the Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi people was registered with the National Native Title Tribunal.

A meeting was held with representatives of the Dieri native title holders in February 2020 to initiate discussion on the development of a similar conjunctive ILUA.

To date, industry has signed on to at least nineteen ILUA’s with the Yandruwandha/Yawarrawarrka and Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi people, of which 12 related to the granting of PELs in the Cooper/Eromanga Basins.

Cooper/Eromanga Basins Aboriginal Conference

The Cooper Eromanga Basins Aboriginal Conference (CEBAC), supported by the South Australian Government, was most recently held in October 2019 and continues to bring together representatives from the Dieri, Yandruwandha/Yawarrawarrka and Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi people together with executives of oil and gas industry participants within the basins, as well as government officials in order to foster ongoing relationship building and increased Aboriginal participation in the oil and gas sector workforce.

Over the 2018-19 period, key focus areas of the program have included developing strategies to encourage Aboriginal people to undertake pre-employment training, as well as the success in assisting to secure ten employment placements for Aboriginal people in the oil and gas industry.  Participating employers include Santos Limited, Compass Group (who provide camp and facilities services in Moomba), OZ Minerals, Schlumberger and Global Engineering. The CEBAC program has been largely dormant during the COVID pandemic, however a return to normal activity is expected later in 2021.


To foster a constructive dialogue in the State’s South East, in 2017 the South Australian Government partnered with CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) for a three-year in-depth study. GISERA have engage local stakeholders as well as industry and regulators to research social and environmental issues related to natural gas operations. The initial tranche of six projects have been completed and four research projects are ongoing and will conclude in 2021-22.

Drilling and seismic surveys

Cooper Basin

In 2020, a total of 108 wells were drilled including side tracks, 95 (6 exploration, 25 appraisal, 64 development) have been cased for production (Figures 2, 3 and 4). Santos drilled 65 of the SA Cooper Basin wells, Beach Energy drilled 43. Success rates are shown in Figure 3 and Table 1.

  New entrants Santos Joint VentureAll
Exploration wells drilled 300 55 355
Commercial success rate (%) 40 52.7  
Technical success rate (%) 44 54.5  
Appraisal and development wells drilled 302 722 1024
Commercial success rate in appraisal and development wells (%) 88 95  

Table 1: Cooper and Eromanga basins conventional oil and gas success rates, January 2002 to April 2021.

Figure 3. Oil exploration success rates for the SA Cooper region, 1962 to 2020.

Figure 3: Oil exploration success rates for the SA Cooper region, 1962 to 2020.

As at 30 April 2021, 5 appraisal and 12 development wells have been drilled in the Cooper-Eromanga basins.

Otway Basin

One petroleum development well was drilled in the SA Otway Basin in 2020 (Haselgrove 4 side track).

Vintage Energy (JV partner of Otway Energy in PEL 155) reported strong CO2 flow rates during production testing of Nangwarry 1 in April 2021. Flows were 12-14 mmscfd through two 48/64” chokes - equivalent to a 68/64” choke and flowing wellhead pressures held relatively stable at around 900 psi.  Vintage Energy have reported gross recoverable estimates for Nangwarry-1 CO2: Low of 7.8 Bcf (3.9 Bcf net), Best of 25.1 Bcf (12.6 Bcf net), High of 82.1 Bcf (41.1 Bcf net) (Vintage Energy ASX release, 31 August 2020).

The Joint Venture are aiming to produce food grade CO2 which is used for refrigeration/dry ice (vaccine storage), carbonation of soft drinks and beer, firefighting equipment, medical devices and winemaking. CO2 was previously sourced from the Caroline 1 well operated by Air Liquide in the SA Otway Basin, which was on production between 1969 and 2017.

Nangwarry 1 production test courtesy of Vintage Energy

Photo: Nangwarry 1 production test courtesy of Vintage Energy

Leigh Creek Energy’s underground coal gasification project

In 2018, the South Australian Government approved Leigh Creek Energy to construct and operate a small scale, pre-commercial demonstration plant to test the commercial feasibility of underground coal gasification at Leigh Creek. Leigh Creek Energy commissioned the demonstration plant in October 2018, and decommissioned the plant in April 2019. LCK have indicated that they intend to continue exploration activities to identify and delineate potential structures, the depth of the coal seams, formation permeability and stress orientations.

Tri-Star Energy’s Arckaringa basin exploration

Tri-Star Energy’s Statement of Environmental Objectives (SEO) for fracture stimulation in their Arckaringa Basin PEL 122 and 123 licences was approved and gazetted on 4 April 2019 following a public consultation process.  Tri-Star are currently in the process of reviewing the SEO for drilling in the Arckaringa Basin, and will not commence operations until it receives the final stage of government approvals.

Seismic acquisition

No seismic was acquired in South Australia during 2020. Up to three 3D seismic surveys are expected to be acquired during 2021.

Figure 4. Exploration, development and appraisal drilling statistics, 2011 to 2020.

Figure 4: Exploration, development and appraisal drilling statistics, 2011 to 2020.

Production and royalties

Cumulative petroleum production is shown in Table 2 and Figures 5-9 show sales and production trends. Detailed production data (to well and individual pool level) can be accessed via the PEPS South Australia online database:

Petroleum royalty payments to the State for the 2019/20 financial year were $120.3m, with estimated total product sales of $1.53b.  This brings the cumulative royalty paid since 1970 to $3.37b (2019/20 dollars) and cumulative sales to an estimated $54.98b (2019/20 dollars). Since 1991 the average royalty paid equals a globally competitive 6.79% of the sales value.

Cumulative Production
5.58 TCF sales gas (since 1970), 225.02 mmbbl oil (from 1983), 89.3 mmboe LPG (from 1984), 87.63 mmboe condensate (from 1983)
Annual Production
82.61 bcf sales gas, 9.99 mmbbl oil, 1.17 mmboe LPG, 0.52 mmboe condensate

Table 2: South Australian Cooper Basin production statistics

Figure 5. Petroleum sales and royalty payments 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 5: Petroleum sales and royalty payments 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 6. Gas sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 7. Crude oil sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 6: Gas sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 7: Crude oil sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 8. Condensate sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20

Figure 9. LPG sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 8: Condensate sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Figure 9: LPG sales, 2010–11 to 2019–20.

Gas incentivisation

PACE Gas grants

PACE Gas grants are supporting a strong and diverse portfolio of projects in the Cooper and Otway basins (Fig. 10) that are expected to result in more than $223 million of industry co-investment.  The nine grants approved under the program target upside potential to unlock more than 1,950 petajoules (PJ) of gas and all but two projects (pending results of flow testing) have now  delivered gas to SA markets.

Round one aimed to deliver additional gas to markets from the end of 2019, and round two by the end 2020.  PACE Gas is aimed to bring forward industry investment that would increase the supply of locally produced and competitively priced gas to South Australian markets.  PACE Gas funded discoveries and additional production will generate royalties and deliver gas from fields located nearer to markets than from interstate.

The Department for Energy and Mining continues to monitor progress and success of the existing nine PACE-funded projects.  Production results from PACE Gas supported projects include more than 5,000 tera-joules (TJ) of natural gas produced for South Australian customers from February 2018 to December 2020.

Production from PACE Gas projects has averaged 10 Tj/day from the Cooper Basin and 10Tj/day from the Otway Basin. Highlights include:

  • Beach Energy’s Haselgrove 3 and Dombey 1 Otway Basin gas discoveries. Successful follow-up drilling at Haselgrove 4 and funding from the Commonwealth’s Gas Acceleration Program (GAP) enabled Beach to construct a new gas plant at Katnook and this is now supplying gas to local markets in the South East.
  • Senex Energy-operated Vanessa East Pipeline and Gemba gas discovery are both supplying gas to the Pelican Point Power Station.
  • Santos-operated Cooper Basin re-fracture stimulation and underbalanced drilling projects, are both supplying gas.

For more information on PACE Gas grants.

Figure 10. PACE Gas and GAP Projects

Figure 10. Location of PACE Gas grant projects

Roundtable for Oil and Gas in SA

The Roundtable for Oil and Gas Projects in South Australia was formed in 2010 and its members come from  industry, governments, peak representative organisations for industry, environment protection organisations, aboriginal people, research institutions and individuals.  The aim of the Roundtable is to provide a forum for members to help inform the South Australian Government on the key priorities that will underpin the Roadmap of Onshore and Offshore Oil and Gas Projects.

The last meeting was held on 11 November 2019 but the 2020 meeting was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. You are welcome to attend the next meeting of the Roundtable for Oil and Gas Projects in South Australia:

When: TBC in  December 2021
Where: National Wine Centre of Australia, Corner of Botanic and Hackney Roads, Adelaide SA 5000.
For further details: Roundtable for Oil & Gas

Review of the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000

The Department for Energy and Mining (DEM) continues to maintain leading practice regulation of the petroleum, gas storage and transmission, and geothermal energy industries in South Australia through regular reviews of the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 (PGE Act). A review of the current PGE Act and associated Regulations commenced in 2021.

The amendments expand the scope of the PGE Act to cover pipeline transportation of future fuels such as hydrogen. South Australia's commitments in the Climate Change Action Plan to embrace future fuels, presents a need to ensure that appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place for the safe operation of essential infrastructure for such fuels. In keeping with this extended scope, and to better reflect the existing scope of the PGE Act for petroleum, gas storage and geothermal activities, the review proposes that the title of the PGE Act be changed to the Energy Resources Act.

Other key improvements include:

  • Enhancing stakeholder consultation requirements for statement of environmental objectives;
  • Enhancing the rehabilitation and decommissioning security provisions of the Act;
  • Introducing Ministerial determinations, to provide more explicit guidance and tailored legislative requirements outside the regulations;
  • Adding greater flexibility over licences such as the size of the licence area and strata titling; and
  • Aligning the penalties under the PGE Act with comparative regulations within the state and other jurisdictions.

These proposed amendments will maintain the PGE Act as a modern, efficient an effective regulatory framework for the upstream energy industry delivering outcomes that meet both community and investor expectations.

An Issues Paper is publicly available. A presentation on the Issues Paper is also available.

It is suggested that the Issues Paper be read in conjunction with the current Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 and Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Regulations 2013 .

Public submissions on the Issues Paper are now closed.

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Regulatory compliance

The Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act is designed as an effective, efficient and flexible regulatory system for all exploration and production activities for petroleum, gas storage and geothermal resources onshore in South Australia, as well as the construction, operation and technical regulation of high-pressure transmission pipelines.

Key objects of the Act include:

  • protecting the public and the environment from risks inherent in activities regulated under the Act,
  • establishing appropriate consultative processes, both with people directly affected by activities regulated under the Act, and the general public, and
  • ensuring appropriate levels of security of natural gas supply.

DEM Energy Resources Division prepares an annual compliance report to report on the administration of the Act and the regulatory performance of the industries covered by the Act. Current and previous reports can be accessed on our website.

Cooper Basin well head

Photo: Cooper Basin well head

New website

DEM-ERD launched a new website in December 2020; readers are asked to update their web favourites with the new address: https://www.petroleum.sa.gov.au/.

New virtual SA Core Library

In April 2021, DEM-ERD launched a new module of the PEPS South Australia online database detailing 2,400 cored intervals from petroleum and geothermal drillholes and containing 13,000 core photographs (~32 GB in total).

Users are able to preview, interact with and download individual core photos. In addition, as well as individual photo downloads, users can download all core photos for the selected well in a zip file.

The online database can be found on the PEPS South Australia website.

Figure 11. Screen capture of the new PEPS Core Photo database

Figure 11. Screen capture of the new PEPS Core Photo database