Australian LNG firm Santos has secured approval for an environmental management plan (EMP) for the Tanumbirini 2H and Inacumba 1/1H wells in Exploration Permit 161 in the McArthur Basin.

The drilling EMP approval has been given by the Northern Territory (NT) Environment and Natural Resources Minister Eva Lawler.

The EMP was the first one awarded for onshore shale gas exploration in the Northern Territory since the lifting of moratorium in early 2018.

Exploration Permit 161 is located approximately 350km south-east of Katherine in the McArthur Basin, east of Daly Waters. Santos is the operator of the permit with 75% interest.

Santos to resume drilling activities in McArthur Basin

The approval allows Santos to resume drilling activities in the basin. This follows approval for EMP made in June 2019 for civil works at and around the well locations, as well as the acquisition of 2D seismic data.

Santos managing director and CEO Kevin Gallagher said that the drilling EMP approval marks an important milestone, clearing the way to restart onshore shale gas exploration in the resource-rich McArthur Basin.

Gallagher added: “We drilled Tanumbirini 1 in 2014 and liked what we saw, so we are delighted to be in a position to resume exploration drilling.

“Local communities desperately need the jobs, small business opportunities and investment the onshore natural gas industry will bring, and with the new regulatory regime in place to ensure that the environment and water resources are protected, we’ll be moving as quickly as possible and doing our best to beat the approaching wet season.”

In June 2019, Santos and its partner Carnarvon Petroleum said that the drilling of the Dorado-2 appraisal well has confirmed the pre-drill expectations of the Dorado discovery offshore Western Australia.

The Dorado discovery, which was made in July 2018 through the drilling of the Dorado-1 well, is contained in the WA-437-P permit in the Bedout Basin.

The Dorado-2 well was drilled using the Noble Tom Prosser jack-up drilling rig, in a water depth of 91m and up to a total depth of 4,573m.