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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3404


Senator Abetz asked the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 7 April 2010:

(1)   What percentage of the overall budget allocation for seismic data surveys does the $9.43 million represent.

(2)   Given that the department had insufficient data to make any meaningful estimate of the value of the resources in the area, on what basis is the department able to justify spending $9.43 million on seismic data surveys in the region of the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs [islands].

(3)   Given that representatives of the exploration team in the department and from Geoscience Australia will be available at the 2010 Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association Ltd and Good Oil conferences in Houston, Brisbane and Fremantle to discuss Australian exploration policy and technical matters:

(a)   can the department outline what departmental representatives and/or officers will be advising conference attendees; and

(b)   will they advise that there is insufficient data to make any meaningful estimate of the value of the resources in the region of the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs [islands] at present; if not, what will be the basis of departmental advice to conference attendees and to international inquiry about the hydrocarbon resources potential in the region.

(4)   At the estimates hearing in October 2009, was the Minister and/or the department aware of the report published on 29 November 1989 in an Australian scientific journal by Dr Philip Symonds (Australia’s United Nations Commissioner) and J.B. Wilcox projecting the tremendous potential of hydrocarbon reserves in the islands area and stating that because the Elizabeth and Middleton Islands area lies beyond Australia’s present 200-mile continental shelf (identified on a chart within the report), Australia would be declaring an expanded continental shelf claim if the Commonwealth asserted jurisdiction over the islands; if so:

(a)   when was the Minister and/or department made aware of the report;

(b)   was the Minister and/or the department also aware that from this report, the minimum estimated recovery from the Middleton, Capel and Faust Basins in the area adjacent to Elizabeth and Middleton Islands [reefs] is 0.20 billion barrels which at US$70 per barrel equates to US$14 billion and the maximum estimated recovery from these basins is 15.9 billion barrels which at US$70 equates to US$1.1 trillion, excluding, of course, potentially large deposits of natural gas and methane from gas hydrates referred from time to time over many years in various Geoscience Australia newsletters; and

(c)   does the Minister and/or the department consider the projected minimum and maximum estimated recovery from the basins identified to be supportable and sufficient to justify the committee’s concerns about possible loss of valuable resources if Australia lost sovereignty over the islands of the Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs [islands].

(5)   Does the department agree that if Australia obtains sovereignty over the Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs as ‘islands’, then Australia would be entitled to substantial mineral rights with respect to the Exclusive Economic Zone area gained and that this would confirm the critical importance of Elizabeth and Middleton Islands towards achieving and maintaining the status of the islands beyond their value as being located in a marine reserve, or as some of the most southernmost coral reefs in the world.


Senator Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Minister for Resources and Energy has provided the following answer to the honorable senator’s question:

(1)   Of the $9.43 million figure spent on marine surveys in the Capel and Faust Basins, $6.2 million was spent on the acquisition of 2D seismic data in these basins. The $6.2 million figure represents 29.6 percent of the total funds spent on 2D seismic acquisition for the period 2003 - 2009.

(2)   The purpose of the program was to acquire additional geophysical and geological data to make an informed assessment of the geological history, and resource potential, of the Capel and Faust Basins. The Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef are located approximately 250kms from the nearest Geoscience Australia seismic line in the Capel Basin. (3)   (a & b) The datasets collected over the Capel and Faust Basins have led to the identification of geologic depocentres (sediment containers) with dimensions up to 125km x 35km and maximum sediment thicknesses of 5 - 7km. If source rocks are present in older parts of the basins, they are of sufficient thickness to produce hydrocarbons.

(3) (a & b)   The datasets collected over the Capel and Faust Basins have led to the identification of geologic depocentres (sediment containers) with dimensions up to 125km x 35km and maximum sediment thicknesses of 5 - 7km. If source rocks are present in older parts of the basins, they are of sufficient thickness to produce hydrocarbons.

(4) (a)   The paper was authored by staff of the Bureau of Mineral Resources (BMR, a forerunner of Geoscience Australia) and was published in the 1989 September issue of the BMR Journal of Australian Geology and Geophysics. Geoscience Australia staff have been and are aware of the report. (4)   (b & c) Geoscience Australia is aware of the estimates published in Symonds and Willcox (1989). The estimates were based on very limited data and rely on generic parameters from potential global analogue basins and take no account of characteristics of Australian petroleum systems. The methodology is not used in Geoscience Australia, and these old estimates cannot be supported. Although the presence of gas hydrates has been inferred and claimed to be present in this region based on characteristics observed on some seismic profiles, more recent studies indicate that these characteristics are likely to have other origins. There is no definitive evidence of the existence of gas hydrates in the region.

(4) (b & c)   Geoscience Australia is aware of the estimates published in Symonds and Willcox (1989). The estimates were based on very limited data and rely on generic parameters from potential global analogue basins and take no account of characteristics of Australian petroleum systems. The methodology is not used in Geoscience Australia, and these old estimates cannot be supported. Although the presence of gas hydrates has been inferred and claimed to be present in this region based on characteristics observed on some seismic profiles, more recent studies indicate that these characteristics are likely to have other origins. There is no definitive evidence of the existence of gas hydrates in the region.

(5)   Australia already exercises sovereignty over Middleton and Elizabeth Reefs and considers them to be islands. Australia already exercises Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights from these features. Regardless of the existence of an EEZ generated by these features, Australia’s entitlements to the resources mentioned is secured by its entitlements under Article 76 of UNCLOS, confirmed by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in its recommendations of April 2008.