Just Find More  

Posted by Big Gav in

Energy minister Martin Ferguson has embarked on a novel way of making his "find a new Bass Strait" wish come true - expand the definition of Australia to cover more of the seabed (see the new map here). I'm sure there will be plenty of gas in the regions offshore WA - but a lot of the other territory is probably pretty hostile territory for operating oil rigs.

THE Federal Government has forecast a "potential bonanza" of oil and gas riches following a decision by the United Nations to grant Australia an extra 2.5 million square kilometres in land - all of it under the sea. The Resources and Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, announced yesterday that Australia's jurisdiction over the Continental Shelf in nine areas around the mainland and in the sub-Antarctic had been expanded beyond the existing 200 nautical mile limit. "I am pleased to announce that Australia, the largest island in the world, has just been dramatically increased in size," Mr Ferguson said.

Although Australia will soon be able to lay claim to the oil, gas and any other deposits under the new territory, it will have no control over the waters above. Therefore, Mr Ferguson said, Australia would not be able to police shipping, fishing or whaling in the waters above the expanded territory. But the decision still opened up "a wealth of exploration entitlements", he said. "This is potentially a bonanza; we have unknown capacity out there. The truth of the matter is that they have been hardly explored. There has been some exploration in terms of gas."

The Howard government introduced a 150 per cent subsidy on the petrol resource rent tax paid by oil and gas companies to promote further exploration but Mr Ferguson said it had never been used. He agreed a new form of incentive would be needed to encourage exploration beneath the deep waters. "We are not oil rich, we do need to find another Bass Strait or alternatively develop another fuel. We're talking about deep sea exploration which is not cheap. It's not easy to get (oil and gas) rigs, they are scarce around the world.

Mr Ferguson said there would be nothing in the federal budget next month, but he suggested future budgets could include breaks or exemptions from the resource tax. Of the nine new land areas granted to Australia, two are in the sub-Antarctic. One is south of Macquarie Island, the other east of Heard and McDonald Islands.

Mr Ferguson said the latter fell within the protected Antarctic zone and would not be mined. He did not immediately rule out exploration of the waters around Macquarie Island, in the Southern Ocean. The island is not protected by the Antarctic treaty, but is on the World Heritage List. Australia's jurisdiction would be effective once the Governor-General, Michael Jeffrey, proclaimed the decision by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

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