The Perth Basin is home to the Waitsia field, one of the largest gas fields discovered onshore in Australia.
While its oil and gas generation dates back more than 200 million years, it was only 70 years ago that the basin’s true value to WA started to be recognised.
BMR conducted gravity surveys in the northern onshore area in 1951, and in the late 1950s, WAPET and BMR drilled stratigraphic wells, which lead WAPET to drill the first wildcat hole, Eneabba 1, in 1961.
At the Energy Club WA’s October industry dinner, Buru Energy executive chair Eric Streitberg said WAPET made a small oil and gas discovery at Yardarino in 1964.
Soon after, the Dongara Wodgina reservoir was discovered, and by 1971 the
first gas was produced for sale on the completion of the Parmelia Gas Pipeline,
WA’s first gas pipeline.
“Until the Waitsia field was discovered, Dongara Wodgina was the reservoir everybody was chasing,” Mr Streitberg said.
“After Dongara was found, it flooded the Perth market… and that stopped a lot of exploration in the Perth Basin during that period.”
What helped set the Perth Basin apart was the high flow rate first seen at Beharra Springs of up to 30 million barrels per day. Mr Streitberg fondly recalled calling onsite drillers for an update. “I rang up and said, ‘hey, how’s the test going, what’s happening?’,” he said.
“They said, ‘have a listen to this,’ and stuck the phone out the window and it sounded like a jet aircraft taking off; it was flaring at 30 million a day. “It’s astonishing, and of course all the wells that have been drilled since have actually increased that rate.”
Mr Streitberg said the start of production at the Perth Basin was the beginning of a major shift in energy use in Perth. “Before production in 1971, the gas for Perth was being produced from the East Perth gasworks, which is now where the casino is located,” he said.
“And now we’re doing a million cubic feet pyrolyzing coal. This juncture completely transformed the Kwinana power station to be able to run on gas, which completely transformed Alcoa. “They went from using coal to become a major customer for all our domestic gas since then.”
According to Mr Streitberg, the basin went quiet until the 1990s, when the first clues about the Waitsia field started to emerge. When the Hovea field was discovered, it gave the next clue that Waitsia was waiting to be found. “We drilled Hovea Two and we missed the oil field; we drilled right at the front of the fault,” Mr Streitberg said.
“We were sitting there saying, ‘where’s the reservoir, why are we so low? Find the geophysicists and shoot them. “Eventually, we got down to where the Dongara Wodgina was, but it was dry. “But the Highcliffe was full of gas and the well tested at 60 million barrels a day.” Eventually, they realised that this was part of the same petroleum system as Waitsia.
By 2004, the Xyris well struck what turned out to be the centre of the Waitsia field. “It’s provided the pivot points for the development of Waitsia,” Mr Streitberg said. “All these things came together as the benefits of perseverance, location, and infrastructure which made these things possible to bring on the production.”
Mr Streitberg said the find wasn’t the end of major discoveries in the Perth Basin. “There is gas everywhere in the lower part of the basin,” he said. “Absolutely no doubt that further exploration is going to find a lot more. “I think people haven’t really grasped how big this thing is; what its impact on the State and probably on Australia is going to be.”
Mr Streitberg lauded the perseverance of small companies such as Strike which were ensuring the future of gas production in the basin and the engagement they have had in the community. “The local communities are being well looked after. We’ve been working hard and engaging with them for the past 50 years,” he said. “And I think there’s at least another 50 years of engagement and support for the community still to come. “Even though I’m not really involved in it, I have to say the best is yet to come.”