View Comments
Canberra looks to Browse for CO2 dump
Canberra looks to Browse for CO2 dump

The Federal Government could be on a fresh collision course with environmentalists over plans to carry out an extensive marine survey off the Kimberley coast.

The Government agency Geoscience Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Science plan to kick off the month-long survey in May to see if they can find geological formations suitable to store and seal off carbon dioxide.

Although the survey is designed to help efforts to find reservoirs deep beneath the seafloor that can store CO{-2}, and therefore reduce the overall level of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental groups are likely to see the Government involvement as Canberra's endorsement of more Browse Basin oil and gas project developments.

The survey is to be carried out in waters across the Leveque Shelf, about 100km off the coast.

Geoscience's lodgement of referral documents for the survey with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities yesterday came as Royal Dutch Shell and Nexus Energy agreed to a $100 million exploration program on their Crux liquids project in return for holding on to the relevant Browse permits for another five years.

The Crux partners did not spell out the value of the work program prescribed under the retention lease conditions, but it includes drilling of the Auriga prospect as well as seismic, design and commercial studies with a view to approving a floating LNG development in 2017.

The Auriga well is due to be drilled next year with the hope of increasing Crux's overall resource.

The Browse Basin is one of the most prospective hydrocarbon regions in the world.

But many of its gas fields also contain high levels of CO{-2} - often above 10 per cent - while LNG developments produce additional greenhouse gas volumes.

Unlike the Chevron-led Gorgon LNG development, which will include reinjecting CO{-2} into a reservoir beneath Barrow Island, neither the Government nor Browse proponents have yet found a suitable carbon storage solution.

Instead, most Browse proponents have conceded their only option is to pay compensation under carbon tax or permit regulations once their projects become operational.

Geoscience says it expects the month-long survey, which will include sonar mapping as well as physical sampling of the seafloor, to have minimal impact on marine life because it will be outside the peak periods of whale migration and dugong movement.

The agency says that following the survey it will deliver a "detailed assessment of the potential to store CO{-2} in the Browse Basin" to government as part of the National CO2 Infrastructure Plan.

The Carbon Storage Taskforce has previously flagged the basin's "significant" CO{-2} storage potential.