Australia will release 31 new offshore petroleum exploration areas and two special areas in Commonwealth waters, the Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson has announced.

The 2009 release areas are located across five basins off the northern territory, Western Australian, South Australian and Victorian coastlines. The areas also include two special areas that are known to contain hydrocarbons.

The special areas are located over the Turtle and Barnett discoveries offshore Western Australia and the northern territory. Six of the 2009 release areas have been selected as designated frontier areas.

Minister Ferguson said that there is nothing more important to the industry and Australia’s future wealth than keeping the exploration sector strong and building project development opportunities.

“We must not forget that the long-term outlook for oil and gas is one of enormous demand growth. Investment in exploration and production must continue through the present economic downturn,”said Ferguson.

As announced in the budget, the government will extend the designated frontier areas incentive in the petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) by a year. The incentive allows an immediate 150% uplift on PRRT deductions for exploration expenditure incurred in designated offshore frontier areas.

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By GlobalData

The six designated frontier areas include three large deepwater areas on the northern Exmouth Plateau, offshore Western Australia. The Exmouth Plateau is the deepwater frontier of the Carnarvon basin, Australia’s premier hydrocarbon province, which contains big gas fields such as Jansz and Scarborough.

Three out of six deepwater exploration wells drilled in the area in 2008 resulted in significant gas discoveries.

Bids for 18 of the new areas and the two special release areas will close on 3 December 2009, with bids for the remaining 13 areas closing on 29 April 2010.

All bids are assessed under Australia’s work program bidding system and will be awarded for an initial term of six years.