Shale oil and gas could provide a major new source of Australian exports, a conference in Darwin has been told.
Martyn Eames, vice president of the Asia Pacific division of energy giant Santos, told the South East Asia Australia Offshore Conference that Asian markets would need large volumes of natural gas imports in coming years.
While Australia was becoming a major global supplier of liquefied natural gas , producers had barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploiting the nation's immense shale fields.
"The Northern Territory government estimates the territory to have more than 200tcf (trillion cubic feet) of shale gas resources," Mr Eames said.
"This presents not only another major supply source for export of domestic gas but promises to deliver significant employment opportunities as well as royalties and taxes," he said.
The head of the Australian business unit of ConocoPhillips, Todd Creeger, said yesterday his his company was testing its first local shale development, in WA's Canning Basin.
"Shale developments in Australia will go slower (than in the US), but I think ... there is no reason to believe Australia doesn't have the same resources," Mr Creeger said.
In the United States, shale gas and oil has revolutionised the country's energy mix and brought the promise of cheaper gas for consumers.
Australia is thought to be the sixth biggest holder of shale gas resources.
Mr Eames said Santos' shale gas well in the Cooper Basin, the first in Australia to enter commercial production, was performing well.
"Whilst it is early days for Australian shale, it is an excellent result," he said.
Atle Rettedal, the senior vice president of new ventures at Norwegian major Statoil, said his group was scouting for shale gas in the South Georgina basin in the Northern Territory near the border with Queensland.
"It is clearly exploration, it is clearly early days, and we are very excited about doing this, but we are also humble in the sense that success is by no means granted," Mr Rettedal told delegates.
"I do hope that there is a lot of shale oil and shale gas in Australia," he said.