Quest for a new oil province begins

07 February 2004

A team of scientific explorers leave Fremantle tomorrow, on a quest to find clues which may lead to the discovery of a new oil province in Western Australia. The expedition is the first part of a four year program which aims to stimulate oil exploration in Australia's offshore jurisdiction.

"Most of Australia's land lies offshore under the sea. We know very little about it, in fact we know more about the surface of Mars," Dr Clinton Foster, from Geoscience Australia said. "The program aims to find a new oil province that will satisfy Australia's future energy needs."

"At present about three-quarters of Australia's oil supplies come from local production. But the country's reliance on imported oil will increase in the near future," Dr Foster added. "Without a new province, oil production will fall by 40 percent over the next ten years."

The Geoscience Australia expedition was launched today by Senator the Hon Christopher Ellison on behalf of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, the Hon Warren Entsch MP.

Centering on the Bremer Sub-Basin, the expedition is the first funded under the Australian Government's $61 million four-year petroleum initiative announced last year.

The Bremer Sub- Basin is a quarter the size of Tasmania and lies 1000 to 4000 metres below the sea surface, offshore between Albany and Esperence. The gently sloping basin is cut by the spectacular Albany Canyons which slice one kilometre into the enormous structure.

"This is the first expedition which focuses on finding evidence of oil, by looking at the rock record in the Bremer Sub-Basin," Dr Neville Exon, said. "We'll use cutting edge technology to find clues in the rocks; pointing to oil potential in the area. We'll map the seafloor; take high resolution images of what the geology looks like down to two kilometers below the seabed and collect rock and sediment samples."

The Bremer Sub-Basin was formed when Australia and Antarctica split, about 100 million years ago, and the area between the continents was filled by sediments and organic matter. Over time, layer upon layer of sediments have fallen over the organic matter and may have turned it into oil through heating at depth.

"We'll bring rocks to the surface which haven't seen the sun for over 100 million years." Dr Exon exclaimed. "They are a link to the past and will help to tell us whether the conditions were right for oil formation and trapping."

The month long expedition is aboard the National Research Facility, Southern Surveyor. Starting in Fremantle, the expedition will dock briefly in Albany after two weeks and then continue on its mission, ending in Hobart.

Results from the expedition will be used to plan a second Geoscience Australia expedition to the Bremer Sub-Basin later this year, focusing on gaining an in-depth understanding of the geological structure up to 8 kilometres under the seafloor.

The results including data and interpretations from this new initiative, and from existing sources, will be made available free or at the marginal cost of transfer.

Background Information

The Bremer Sub-Basin program was decided after extensive consultation between Geoscience Australia and industry, and results from the new petroleum initiative announced by the Australian Government in May 2003, with four year funding of $61 million.

Of this, $25 million is to fund a geophysical and geological acquisition program targeted at frontier offshore basins, and to upgrade more than half a million seismic data tapes onto modern storage media. The balance of $36 million is core funding for Geoscience Australia's petroleum promotion and advice program.

The potential of the sub-basin to trap oil and gas is indicated by existing regional seismic coverage that images the structure of the basin to a depth of between 8 km below the ocean bottom. But the age of the rocks is virtually unknown, as no samples have ever been collected.

The regional seismic data sets have been acquired by Geoscience Australia to identify potential dredging sites, particularly in the deeply cut Albany Canyons that dissect the gently sloping edges of the basin. The recovered rocks will be used to determine the age of the basin, and their potential to yield oil and gas.

The team will map the seafloor and bounce sound waves into the underlying rocks which will give us a high resolution image of the geology two kilometers under the seafloor. They'll also collect rock samples from the Albany Canyons and look for high organic content pointing to oil.

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