Onshore exploration at sunset

Onshore exploration

There are currently 38 granted exploration licences for petroleum in the onshore Northern Territory.

Since 2010, around 60 exploration and production wells have been drilled onshore in the Northern Territory (NT), and exploration seismic data has been acquired in the McArthur, Amadeus, Pedirka and Georgina Basins.

Petroleum exploration expenditure for 2021/22 was $185.2 million, up 103% on the 2020/21 figure of $91.3 million. In the June 2022 quarter expenditure was $37.3 million. The ABS do not provide a breakdown of offshore vs onshore for petroleum expenditure in the NT.

Approved Environmental Management Plans for exploration activities in the NT can be accessed from the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security website.

View onshore exploration and production map in the NT PDF (2.1 MB).

View the current NT onshore petroleum titles and land status map PDF (3.4 MB).

Petroleum exploration in the NT

McArthur Basin (including the Beetaloo Sub-basin)

Exploration in the Beetaloo Sub-basin is progressing from the exploration to appraisal phase, with activity accelerating in 2021.

Exploration in the central part of the Beetaloo Sub-basin is operated by Origin Energy, in joint venture with Falcon Oil and Gas Ltd. In August 2021, Origin performed extended production testing at Amungee NW-1H, a 3808m well 60 km east of Daly Waters that includes a 1100m horizontal section. The well was originally drilled and production tested in 2015-16, with production averaging 1.1 MMscf/d. The results of a production log test in 2021 indicated that most production was sourced from only four of the eleven hydraulic stimulation stages, and on this basis normalised gas flow rates are now estimated to be 5.2-5.8 MMscf/d per 1000m of horizontal section.

In October 2019, Origin spudded the Kyalla 117 N2-1 well, testing the liquids-rich shale gas play in the Kyalla Formation. The well was drilled to a vertical depth of 1895m, and hydraulic stimulation of a 1579m lateral section occurred in September 2020. In January 2021 the well flowed unassisted for seventeen hours, with initial gas composition data indicating liquids-rich gas with 65% methane, 18.8% ethane and a C3+ gas component of 14.4%, with low CO2 (0.9%). Extended production testing at Kyalla 117 during 2021 demonstrated liquids-rich gas flows for intermittent periods although production was not sustained.

In August 2021 Origin spudded a well to test the Velkerri wet gas play (Velkerri 76 S2-1) which was successfully drilled to a vertical depth of 2129m and demonstrated the continuity of the prospective Amungee Member of the Velkerri Formation towards the eastern flank of the sub-basin within the wet gas window. Further testing of Velkerri 76 is planned.

Santos Ltd also have exploration tenure in the Beetaloo Sub-basin in joint venture with Tamboran Resources Ltd. In November 2019, Santos re-entered the previously drilled Tanumbirini-1 vertical well and commenced a four-stage stimulation program. Flow testing of the well in 2020 confirmed a dry gas discovery in the Middle Velkerri shale gas play. In August 2021, Santos completed drilling the Tanumbirini-2H horizontal well to a total depth of 4,598m, including a horizontal section of over 1,000m in the B-shale of the Amungee Member. A second horizontal well (Tanumbirini-3H) was spudded in August. The company plans to fracture stimulate and flow test both wells before the end of 2021.

In September 2020, Empire Energy Group Ltd spudded the Carpentaria-1 well, near the eastern margin of the Beetaloo Sub-basin which was drilled to a depth of 1916m and intersected extensive intervals of liquids-rich gas within shales of the Velkerri Formation. In October 2021, Empire announced the result of hydraulic stimulation and flow testing of the vertical well, with an average flow rate of 0.364 MMscf/d over 10 days. Drilling of the Carpentaria-2H horizontal appraisal well, 11 km north of Carpentaria-1, is scheduled before the end of 2021.

Other key players in the Beetaloo Sub-basin are Tamboran Resources Ltd and Inpex.

Elsewhere in the greater McArthur Basin, Armour Energy, Minerals Australia (a subsidiary of Hancock Prospecting) and Empire Energy have large tenement holdings with a number of stacked conventional and unconventional petroleum plays.

Santos, Armour Energy and Minerals Australia also have tenure in the frontier South Nicholson Basin and Lawn Hill Platform.

Amadeus Basin

Central Petroleum Ltd are planning an exploration drilling program commencing in late 2021 that will include three wells: Dingo Deep (Dingo 5), Orange 3, and Palm Valley Deep. The company are also planning a 30 km 2D seismic survey over the Zevon sub-salt lead.

Santos Ltd has a farm-in agreement with Central Petroleum Ltd for a large area in the Amadeus Basin, where Santos are targeting sub-salt and intra-salt plays of the Neoproterozoic lower Gillen-Heavitree Quartzite System in the southeastern part of the basin. In April 2019, Santos spudded the Dukas-1 wildcat well, which was drilled to a depth of 3704 m where it was suspended after it encountered unexpectedly high formation pressures. Peak Helium Ltd also has tenure in the southeastern Amadeus Basin, targeting pure helium subsalt plays.

Mosman Oil and Gas Ltd is also exploring in the Amadeus Basin, primarily targeting subsalt plays.

Georgina Basin

Global Oil and Gas Ltd announced in October 2021 that they were commencing a geochemical testing survey for hydrogen and helium in EP127 in the southern Georgina Basin. In June 2021 the Northern Territory Government announced that it was opening an acreage release over a large area of the southern Georgina Basin, with submissions to close on 16 November 2021.

Other Basins

Activity in most other basins has been subdued since 2015. Other explorers include BR Simpson Pty Ltd, who are targing shale gas plays in the Pedirka Basin, Vintage Energy Ltd in the onshore Bonaparte Basin and Blue Energy Ltd (in joint venture with Wiso Oil Pty Ltd) in the Wiso and Birrindudu basins.