Work at the Bureau of Mineral Resources (now Geoscience Australia) in the early 1990s was instrumental in bringing hot rocks geothermal research and development to Australia. The Energy Initiative of the Federal Government, announced in August 2006, has restarted a geothermal project in GA. This paper outlines the scope of the Onshore Energy Security Program, the development and implementation of the new Geothermal Energy Project, and progress to date.
The Onshore Energy Security Program
A program to acquire pre-competitive geoscience information for onshore energy prospects has begun following the Prime Minister's Energy Security Initiative. The initiative provides $58.9 million over five years to Geoscience Australia for the acquisition of new seismic, gravity, geochemistry, heat flow, radiometric, magneto-telluric and airborne electromagnetic (EM) data to attract investment in exploration for onshore petroleum, geothermal, uranium and thorium energy sources. The program will be delivered in collaboration with the States and Territory under the existing National Geoscience Agreement. A set of principles have been developed to guide the program. According to the principles, proposed work must: promote exploration for energy-related resources, especially in greenfields areas; improve discovery rates for energy-related resources; be of national and/or strategic importance; and data acquisition must be driven by science.
The program is structured with national-scale projects for each energy commodity (geothermal, petroleum, uranium and thorium) and for geophysical and geochemical acquisition. Regional scale projects in Georgetown-Isa, Gawler-Curnamona, Northern WA and the Northern Territory areas will assess the energy potential of those areas in detail. Other regions will be prioritised at a later stage of the OESP.
Formulating the Geoscience Australia Geothermal Energy Project
Based on consultation with State and Territory geological surveys and geothermal exploration companies, a list of the impediments faced by geothermal companies was identified. The Geothermal Energy Project addresses those that require geoscience input.
The greatest geological problem facing explorers is a lack of understanding of the distribution of temperature in the upper crust of Australia. The two existing datasets that map temperature and heat distribution - the Austherm map of temperature at 5 km depth, and a database of heat flow measurements - both require a great deal of infilling. It is also possible to make predictive maps of expected heat based on geological models. These three ways of mapping heat, and the work that the project will do in each of these areas, is described in more detail in later sections.
Other geoscience inputs that will help improve discovery rates and/or reduce risk to explorers and investors include a comprehensive and accessible geothermal geoscience information system, a better understanding of the stress state of the Australian crust, better access to seismic monitors during reservoir stimulation, and a Reserve & Resource definition scheme. Increasing the awareness of Australia's geothermal potential amongst decision makers and the general public may also help the funding of the development of the industry through Government support and investor confidence. The Geothermal Project has involvement in all of these activities, as outlined in later sections.
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