Interest was first expressed about geothermal exploration in South Australia by Ashton Energy in 1996, around the Olympic Dam Mine. Other parties expressed interest in exploring the known ‘hot spots’ in the Cooper Basin around the same time. However, licences could not then be granted because there was no available legislative framework.
During extensive stakeholder consultation for the new Petroleum Act 2000, which commenced in 1996, interested geothermal parties provided input. Because the most prospective geothermal area in the state was perceived to be under the Cooper Basin, and drilling would involve deep holes using petroleum industry technology, it was determined that geothermal exploration licences and activities would be regulated by the new Petroleum Act, rather than the Mining Act 1971 or separate legislation.
Natural decline in petroleum reserves in South Australia, risks of climate change and likelihood of future carbon-constrained economies, plus the recognition of South Australia's vast natural hot rock resources, were drivers to set out a supportive framework to entice investment in exploration and development geothermal energy in the Petroleum Act. The process commenced in South Australia in October 2000 with the release of three geothermal exploration blocks over hot granites underlying the Cooper Basin.
Public domain seismic and drilling data from previous petroleum exploration activity by Delhi Petroleum and the Santos Joint Venture were readily available from DMITRE (formerly PIRSA) and helped to high-grade the region. Applications were received for all blocks and the first South Australian geothermal exploration licences (GELs) were granted in October 2001.
Since August 2004 over-the-counter applications for GELs can be accepted over the entire state, except over current GELs or lands excluded for exploration (eg certain parks). Because geothermal exploration is not regarded by the Government of South Australia as mining under the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993, the right to negotiate process is not required. The average turn-around from lodging a GEL application (GELA) with the Department of State Development to grant of licence is roughly three months, depending on whether parks and/or compatible licences are involved.
The Government of South Australia is now leading Australia with an effective and expeditious geothermal regulatory and approvals framework under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000, which was proclaimed on 1st October 2009. The outcomes are astounding and have positive implications for South Australians being enabled to reduce emissions, adapt to the implications of climate change and to benefit from changes expected in future carbon-constrained economic settings.
Licence holders in South Australia
Current Geothermal Tenement Map showing Licencess and Applicants (updated fortnightly).
Department of State Development's Earth Resources Information Sheet P1 lists all holders of geothermal licences in South Australia.
Australian geothermal licence holders provides more detailed information about current geothermal licence holders.