Australia struggling to commercialize unconventional resources


Following disappointing results from recent exploration and production activities, Australia needs, now more than ever, a liquids-rich play to begin widespread and commercial unconventional development in the country, said Jonathan Lacouture, a GlobalData upstream analyst covering Asia-Pacific.

The stage seems set for commercially viable unconventional resource development in Australia, due to the country’s significant technical shale and tight gas resource estimates, its well-developed onshore upstream sector, and substantial capital investment in frontier basins. However, disappointing results from recent exploration and production activities has cast doubt over unconventional operations in Australia. For example, ConocoPhillips and PetroChina left their positions in the Canning Basin in October this year, after test wells performed below expectations.

“The real keystone that Australia needs to fuel unconventional development is a liquids-rich play,” Lacouture said. “Additional production from Santos and Beach Energy in the Cooper Basin, and from AWE Energy in the Perth Basin, is scheduled for 2015, but the vast majority of this resource volume is natural gas.

“On the other hand, there is a strong possibility of shale oil production from platform structures in the Canning Basin, which lie on the flank of the Fitzroy Trough. Despite the exodus of ConocoPhillips and PetroChina from the area, heavyweights Mitsubishi and Apache have continued exploration activities through a joint venture with domestic operator Buru Energy.”

The analyst noted that the primary liquids target in the Canning Basin is the Goldwyer Formation, which some operators have compared geologically to the resource-rich Utica, Marcellus, and Bakken shales in the US. However, although well tests indicating commercial oil flow from the Goldwyer may catalyze unconventional development in Australia, only limited production is anticipated to come online over the next few years.

“The Canning and other frontier basins are also distant from population centers and lack transportation and processing infrastructure, therefore requiring significant capital investment and time to develop,” Lacouture said. “Furthermore, potentially significant financial windfalls to unconventional development, such as the repealing of the Clean Energy Act and rising domestic gas prices, act as boons to conventional and coalbed methane projects as well. We therefore expect commercial unconventional resource production to remain out of reach for Australia in the medium term.”


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