The Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 authorises petroleum activities provided that there is appropriate protection of the environment, social values and existing land users.

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Protected areas

The total area of protected land (i.e. land proclaimed or reserved for conservation purposes) within onshore South Australia is 21,143,803 hectares, over 21% of the state. The areas are administered by the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) under the:

Approximately 74% of onshore protected areas allow access for mineral and petroleum exploration and development. There are seven categories of reserve.

Summary of protected areas onshore South Australia

Area (ha)
of State
of Park 
Area available 
for Petroleum 
of SA 
within Parks excluded 
from Petroleum
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972
Recreation Park
National Park
Regional Reserve79,340,1679.5%99.0%<0.1%
Game Reserve1025,061<0.1%0%<0.1%
Conservation Park2785,882,8846.0%35.2%3.9%
Crown Land Management Act 2009
Conservation Reserve
Wilderness Protection Act 1992
Wilderness Protection Area
 Total 36021,143,80321.6% 70.1% 6.4% 

Table notes:

Protected Areas:   Land proclaimed or reserved for conservation purposes pursuant to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972Crown Land Management Act 2009, the Wilderness Protection Act 1992 or the Marine Parks Act 2007.

Totals:  Columns in this table may appear not to total due to rounding. The reported totals are correct.

Data Sources:  The information included in this table was produced from the Protected Areas Information System by the Protected Areas Unit, Conservation and Land Management Branch, Department for Environment and Water; information current as at October 2020.

Area of South Australia:  98,113,292 ha - Calculated by Lamberts Conformal Conic Projection, Datum GDA94, from 1:50,000 mapping.

The legislation is designed for conservation purposes, but there are provisions for joint proclamations and regional reserves both of which allow access for mineral and petroleum exploration and development. Where access is excluded, this includes subsurface access as well as surface access.

Conservation reserves, under the Crown Land Management Act 2009, identify land that has environmental values, ostensibly for soil protection under the Act. There are no specific legislative restrictions to mining or petroleum access in these reserves, although they signal that a higher than normal degree of scrutiny will be applied for any proposed activity in these areas.

Protected areas also occur offshore (e.g. the Great Australian Bight Marine Park) and are administered under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, Fisheries Management Act 2007 and the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981.

Under the Marine Parks Act 2007, 19 marine parks have been created throughout South Australian waters covering an area of 2,693,676 ha.

Whilst a multiple use policy is applicable to these parks, there will be specific zones where mining and petroleum exploration and/or development will be excluded.

Heritage agreements, agreements entered into between landowners and the Minister for Environment and Water, are attached to the title of the land and provide protection to native vegetation on private land. These agreements are established under the Native Vegetation Act 1991, and are administered by the Native Vegetation Branch of the Department for Environment and Water. Access requirements for mineral and petroleum exploration are dependent on the licence type.

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Jointly proclaimed parks

A joint proclamation allowing mining rights is a mechanism under section 43(2) of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 which provides for the Governor to proclaim conditions whereby rights of entry, prospecting, exploration and mining may be acquired for national parks and conservation parks. This is qualified by section 43(5), which states that such a proclamation cannot be made unless:

(a) it allows for continuing rights vested in a person immediately before the commencement of the Act.

(b) the proclamation is made simultaneously with the proclamation constituting a reserve.

Mineral exploration and mining activities are possible only with approval of the Minister for Environment and Water as per the conditions of the park proclamation and in accordance with the management plan for the park.

This is also the case for petroleum exploration and production, except where a petroleum exploration licence was in force immediately prior to proclamation of the park. In this case, the proclamation may allow application for a production licence without approval of the Minister for Environment and Water.

Many recent additions to the reserve system have been made under joint proclamations, which allow existing rights to continue and future rights to be acquired. This means that there are some parks where access may be available to some parcels of land but not others within the park due to existing tenure.

Regional Reserves

The 1987 amendments to section 34 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 provided, amongst other matters, for a new multiple-use classification of reserve called the regional reserve. This classification provides for the conservation of wildlife and the natural or historic features of the land while, at the same time, permitting use of its natural resources.

Petroleum and mineral exploration activity may take place provided that they are subject to controls consistent with the management plan for the reserve. Mineral and petroleum exploration licence applications for areas within regional reserves are processed by the Department for Energy and Mining but must be referred to the Minister for Environment and Water for comment. Exploration work programs are discussed with the Department for Environment and Water as a matter of policy.

In the case of production licences, approval must be given by the Minister for Environment and Water. If ministerial agreement with the Minister for Energy and Mining cannot be reached in a particular case, the issue is referred to the Governor for decision.

Under section 40(a) of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, the Ministers may enter into an agreement with the holder of a petroleum exploration licence granted in relation to land that is, or has become, a regional reserve which imposes conditions limiting or restricting the exercise of rights under the licence by the holder of the licence and by his or her successors in title.

In all other respects exploration and production in a regional reserve are carried out under the provisions of the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act and Regulations.

Petroleum and geothermal exploration take place in a number of regional reserves, and much of the current petroleum produced from the Cooper Basin originates from within the Innamincka Regional Reserve.

Summary of requirements for consultation with the Department for Environment and Water:

Type of licence

Type of 
Type of Reserve
Requirement from Minister
for Environment and Water Section in 
Parks and Wildlife Act 1972
Exploratory licences*Licence onlyPark with mining proclamationApproval43(2)
Licence onlyRegional Reserve Comment43A(1)
Work programPark with mining proclamationApproval43(2)
Work program Regional ReserveNil (legally, but policy
requires consultation)
or pipeline
Licence onlyPark with mining proclamationApproval43(2)
Licence onlyRegional ReserveApproval43A(2)
Table notes:
* Includes preliminary survey, speculative survey, petroleum exploration, geothermal exploration, gas storage exploration, retention licences and associated facilities licences for exploratory activities.
# This would include associated activities licences if the licence involved production or pipeline transport of petroleum.

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