Home' Australian Resources and Investment : March 2010 Contents AUSTRALIAN RESOURCES & INVESTMENT • MARCH 2010 • 137
Geothermal energy in
Queensland and Australia
BY ANDRE DAUWALDER
Queensland's vast geothermal energy reserves have the potential
to provide a significant and climate-friendly energy source for
hundreds of years. In recognition of these resources, the
Queensland Government released the Geothermal Energy Bill
2009, and an accompanying consultation paper, in August 2009. The Bill
is intended to supersede the current Geothermal Exploration Act 2004.
The stated purpose of the Bill is to "encourage and facilitate the safe
production of geothermal energy for the benefit of all Queenslanders".
This will be achieved by providing for geothermal authorities to be
granted to explore for or produce geothermal energy, and creating a
regulatory system for carrying out activities relating to geothermal
This article provides an overview of the current legislative treatment
of geothermal energy in the Australian States and territories, and
considers the impact of the Bill on Queensland's developing geothermal
GEOTHERMAL ENERGY IN AUSTRALIA
Several Australian States and territories have developed specific
legislation to facilitate geothermal exploration and production. Some
States have chosen to embed geothermal provisions within current
legislative frameworks, while others have developed geothermal-specific
The system adopted in Queensland introduced a completely separate
regime for geothermal energy. The Geothermal Exploration Act 2004
came into force on 25 March 2005 and deals only with exploration. The
legislation was intended as an interim measure, pending development of
a more comprehensive regime for geothermal energy production, to
enable geothermal exploration to begin.
Under the Act, a Geothermal Exploration Permit can only be granted
from a call for tenders under section 17. A call for tenders is published
in the Queensland Government Gazette. Tenders are to be made in the
approved form and are to include a proposed initial work program for the
period stated in the Gazette notice.
Exploration permits are subject to the mandatory conditions under
Chapter 4, Part 2 of the Act and can be renewed, amended, deferred,
cancelled, surrendered and transferred.
In the event of conflicting interests of explorers and other
tenements holders, precedence is given to the exploration tenement
holder who started its activities first - that is, geothermal exploration
activities can not be carried out if they adversely affect activities that
have already begun.
NEW SOUTH WALES
New South Wales adopted a different approach to Queensland. Instead of
introducing a separate geothermal-specific bill, the government
incorporated geothermal provisions into the State's existing mining
legislation, the Mining Act 1992, by including 'geothermal substances'
within the definition of 'mineral'.
An exploration licence issued under this Act gives the holder
exclusive rights to explore for the minerals specified in the licence. If
the exploration results prove positive, then an assessment lease may be
issued to evaluate the mineral-bearing capacity and extent of the
Exploration companies must demonstrate their financial and
technical resources to carry out the work, pay a security bond for
rehabilitation, assign a two-year budget to the project and report
annually on progress. They must also reach a land access agreement with
the landholder, which deals with access conditions and compensation
(NSW Minerals Council Ltd).
Geothermal exploration in Victoria is governed by the Geothermal Energy
Resources Act 2005 and Regulations. In this regard, Victoria has
followed Queensland in adopting a geothermal-specific legislative
The Victorian geothermal legislation and regulations are intended to
apply to high-end geothermal operations. Under the regulations,
exploration permits are not required where the geothermal resource is
less than 70 degrees Celsius or less than 1000m in depth. Low-end
operations, on the other hand, operate under existing environmental,
water and planning laws (Department of Primary Industries, Victoria).
The legislation allows for the grant of exploration permits (the
exclusive rights to explore in an area subject to conditions), retention
leases (where resources have been discovered but are not yet
commercially viable) and extraction licences (exclusive rights to produce
The legislation requires that consultation with landholders takes
place before any exploration or extraction activity can start.
This Act applies only to exploration and extraction of the resource.
The actual use of geothermal energy (for example, through electricity
production) is regulated through existing planning and environment laws
(Department of Primary Industries, Victoria).
Geothermal energy in South Australia is addressed under current
petroleum legislation, namely the Petroleum Act 2000. This Act provides
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