ABSTRACT

Government are challenged to deploy trustworthy regulation to enable profitable and environmentally sustainable unconventional petroleum projects. A key activity under scrutiny during the development of these projects is hydraulic fracture stimulation. Regulatory ‘Nirvana’ for unconventional projects and conventional projects alike entails:

  • Pragmatic licence tenure;

  • Regulatory certainty and efficiency without taint of capture;

  • Regulators and licensees with trustworthy competence and capacity;

  • Effective stakeholder consultation well-ahead of land access;

  • Public access to details of significant risks and reliable research to backup risk management strategies so the basis for regulation is contestable anytime, everywhere;

  • Timely notice of entry with sufficient operational details to effectively inform stakeholders;

  • Potentially affected people and organisations can object to land access - without support for vexatious objections;

  • Fair and expeditious dispute resolution processes;

  • Fair compensation to affected land-users;

  • Risks are reduced to low or as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) while also meeting community expectations for net outcomes;

  • Licensees monitor and report on the efficacy of their risk management, and the regulator probes same;

  • Regulator can prevent and stop operations, require restitution, levy fines and cancel licences; and

  • Industry compliance records are public, so the efficacy of regulation is transparent.

These principles are deployed in South Australia where:
  • 24 unconventional gas plays are being explored, each with giant gas potential;

  • Hundreds of wells have been safely hydraulically fracture stimulated;

Since implementing South Australia's Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 [1] (PGEAct), more than 11,000 notices of entry for petroleum operations led to just one court action, and that was to establish a legal precedent that geophysical surveys can extend outside a licence to enable a complete understanding of the potential resources within a licence.

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