Australia: The Regulation Of Unconventional Petroleum Exploration And Production In Western Australia

With Western Australia having one of the largest technically recoverable shale gas reserves in the world in its Canning and Perth basins, 1 it is no wonder that unconventional petroleum 2 exploration in WA is gathering pace and attracting investment from international oil companies.

But the logistical hurdles of bringing the petroleum to market, and the relatively high cost of labour and the extraction of the resources, mean that it may be a while yet before we catch up with our South Australian neighbours and see first production. Nevertheless, regulators in WA are cognisant that they must strike a balance between fostering the burgeoning unconventional petroleum industry and addressing concerns that exist in relation to the environmental impacts of unconventional petroleum exploration and production, in particular the effects of hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking') 3. Against this background, this bulletin seeks to outline the current regulatory framework for unconventional petroleum exploration and production in WA and some of the recent developments in this space.

For an interesting insight into the shale gas revolution in Australia and the financing of this revolution, please refer to our recent Thinking piece, available via this link.


The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) administers onshore petroleum and geothermal activities in WA. Onshore petroleum activities are regulated under various sources of legislation, such as the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 (WA), which regulates the entire petroleum spectrum from exploration to abandonment, and the associated Schedule of Onshore Exploration and Production Requirements 1991(Schedule), which contains many provisions that are generally found in regulations, such as, drilling, regulation of production and reporting requirements. Onshore petroleum activities must also comply with legislation relating to public health, the environment and water resources, such as the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (Cth), which is administered by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

The DMP is responsible for assessing and approving all drilling and fracking operations. Parties intending to carry out such activities need to submit a number of applications to the DMP, including:

  • a drilling application;
  • an environmental management plan (EMP); and
  • a safety management plan. 4

In order to approve a fracking operation, the DMP requires detailed information to be submitted, including, the scale of the program; distances from nearest aquifer(s); all chemical additives used; volumes, management and disposal of water; integrity of well casings; fracture modelling and monitoring of fracking; and long term monitoring to determine whether chemical contamination is an issue.

Potential environmental impacts identified for fracking projects are assessed within the DMP's regulatory framework in the first instance. The DMP will refer a proposal to the EPA in certain circumstances, such as if the proposal is likely to impact a water resource area.

The EPA will determine whether to assess fracking related projects on a case-by-case basis by deciding whether the project will have a significant effect on the environment. 5


The WA Government has stated its commitment to a regulatory regime that ensures responsible development of the unconventional petroleum industry, while protecting the environment, groundwater resources and public health. 6 Recognising that the current regulatory framework in WA needs to be amended and augmented to accommodate the up-tick in unconventional petroleum exploration in WA, the Government has instigated three main initiatives that aim to ensure that WA's regulatory framework meets global best practice.

  1. Independent Review Board

The Government's first initiative was to commission Dr Tina Hunter to conduct an independent review of the regulatory framework for unconventional petroleum activities in WA in 2011 (available via this link (Report)). The Report made 15 recommendations for changes to the current regulatory framework, the most important of which arguably being that the regulatory processes should be strengthened and that legal enforceability needed to be improved through developing new environmental and resource management regulations. In response to the Report, the DMP has begun the implementation of a reform package, the key legislative amendments of which will serve to:

  • strengthen enforcement provisions for regulators;
  • mandate full disclosure of chemicals; and
  • mandate public release of approved Environment Management Plans. 7

The DMP will also be reviewing its policies, procedures, guidelines and activities to improve community consultation by industry participants, target compliance with auditing plans and improve consultation agreements with other government agencies.

The DMP begun the first part of this reform process in January 2012, when it released draft environmental regulations 8 under which all environment management plans submitted to the DMP must be publicly disclosed. 9 In addition, the DMP amended its guidelines for The Preparation and Submission of an Environment Plan (Guidelines). 10 Following a period of stakeholder consultation, the draft environmental regulations were finalised and the new Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2012 (WA) (Environmental Regulations) took effect from 29 August 2012.

For more information on the Environmental Regulations, please refer to our Corrs in Brief which summarises the key facets of the new regulations (available via this link).

The second part of the reform process will see the introduction of new Resource Management Regulations (Resource Management Regulations), which we understand are currently in the final stages of drafting and will be released by the DMP in June of this year for stakeholder comment. The Resource Management Regulations 11 are expected to be highly technical. The regulations will replace the dated Schedule of Onshore Exploration and Production Requirements 1991 and we understand that these regulations will give the DMP greater enforcement powers and will update the scope of its powers to provide for the growing unconventional petroleum industry in WA.

Some of the additional powers granted may include making drilling programs and fracked water management plans enforceable. There have been concerns regarding the enforceability of management plans relating to water produced from abandoned shale gas wells, which the Resource Management Regulations are expected to address. We will provide a further update once the Resource Management Regulations have been finalised.

  1. EPA Advice

Under the second initiative, the EPA has provided guidance to the WA Government and the industry on the regulation of onshore gas activities through Environmental Protection Bulletin No. 15. 12 The EPA notes that it will maintain a watching brief on the development of DMP regulatory arrangements, including working with the DMP to ensure the community and industry has appropriate information and guidance.

  1. Interagency Working Group

The third initiative of the DMP was to establish an interagency working group to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to the regulation of onshore petroleum activity. Various state government departments are represented on the working group.


It is not only the WA Government that has been quick to respond to the burgeoning unconventional petroleum industry, The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has been proactive in developing a code of practice for fracking which provides various guidelines which industry operators have committed to. 13


Unconventional petroleum exploration in WA is still in its infancy, but given the prospect of a significant up-tick in exploration in the coming years, we expect there will be considerable public interest in (and scrutiny of) the industry. As such, stakeholders should familiarise themselves with the regulatory framework and develop procedures for compliance.

The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of Chris Pass to this article.


1The Energy Information Administration has estimated that onshore WA has 288 tcf of technically recoverable reserves of shale gas: "World Shale Gas Resources – An initial estimate of 14 regions outside the United States" (April 2011) available here..

2The term unconventional petroleum refers to hydrocarbons that are more difficult and less economical to extract than their conventional cousin, mainly because these hydrocarbons occur in rock formations with low porosity and permeability, which means that specialised technology, such as horizontal drilling and fracking, is required to reach and extract these hydrocarbons. Examples include, shale gas, coal seam (or coal bed methane) gas and tight oils and gasses.

3Fracking is a process that uses fluids and other materials that are pumped under high pressure into wells to open channels in the rock formations, increasing the flow of and allowing extraction of hydrocarbons.

4See the DMP's FAQ on Unconventional Gas in Western Australia.

5Environmental Impact Assessment Administrative Procedures 2010 (WA)

6DMP "Department of Mines and Petroleum Response to Report: Regulation of Shale, Coal Seam, and Tight Gas Activities in Western Australia" (31 October 2011) at page 2, available here.

7For further information on the DMP's regulatory responses to the Report, please follow this link.

8Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2011 (WA); Petroleum (Submerged Lands) (Environment) Regulations 2011 and the Petroleum Pipelines (Environment) Regulations 2012

9The object of the draft regulations is to ensure that any petroleum activity or geothermal activity is consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, and carried out under an appropriate environmental plan. Relevantly, hydraulic fracturing is included in the definition of petroleum activity and geothermal activity.

10Draft Guideline for The Preparation and Submission of an Environment Plan (2011), available here.

11Not to be confused with the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Environment) Regulations 2012 (WA) which the Resources Management Regulations will complement.

12Available here.

13 Available here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Most awarded firm and Australian deal of the year
Australasian Legal Business Awards
Employer of Choice for Women
Equal Opportunity for Women
in the Workplace (EOWA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions