Land access agreements for exploration

Petroleum exploration

From the beginning of the permit application process, you must initiate and maintain regular contact with pastoralists and land managers regarding planned exploration activities and land access needs.

You should discuss shared land use arrangements to minimise inconvenience or disruption to a pastoralist’s operation.

If the land to be explored is Aboriginal freehold or pastoral lease affected by native title, you must follow the negotiation process which applies to each type of tenure.

Read more about Aboriginal freehold and native title land.


As a minimum, you must contact the pastoralist and land manager at these stages of the process:

  • within 14 days of being named as the successful applicant, if you intend to seek an exploration permit. Read about how to tell a landholder/manager about a permit application, which includes a link to the landholder notice form and information about how to use it.
  • when the exploration permit is granted
  • at least 14 days before any exploration work starts.

Once an exploration permit has been granted, there are two levels of activity that can be undertaken:

  • reconnaissance activity
  • an exploration program.

There are different rules about notifying and consulting with landowners and land managers depending on which kind of activity is planned.

Reconnaissance activities

Reconnaissance includes:

  • aerial and surface surveys
  • inspections
  • other activities that do not disturb the land or vegetation.

You must give the landholder and land manager notice in writing at least 14 days before any work starts, and let them know what you intend to do and when.

If the proposed work would interfere with pastoral operations, you should tell the explorer and work out arrangements that suit both parties.

Land access agreement for exploration program

An exploration program includes activities that must be approved by the department such as seismic surveys and drilling.

If the land is pastoral leasehold, you must negotiate an agreement with the landowner and land manager about access to exploration sites before you can start work.

You must provide proof of the agreement to the department, such as a letter signed by both parties confirming the existence of an agreement, but not necessarily a copy of the agreement itself.

You must provide proof of a current access agreement every time you apply for program approval.

You must reach agreement within 60 days of starting negotiations.

If you can’t, either party can refer the issue to an arbitration panel. You can also refer it to the panel earlier if you both agree to it.

The panel is made up of industry representatives and the chief executives of the following departments:

  • Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade
  • Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security
  • Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics.

The panel must make a recommendation to the department about access and conditions within 21 days.

Both the explorer and the landowner/land manager can ask the civil court to review the recommendation if they disagree with it, but this does not affect approval of the exploration program or the explorer’s right to start work.

Under the land access guidelines, an exploration program may be approved once an access agreement is in place.

This can be achieved by:

  • independent mutual agreement or
  • mutual agreement following arbitration panel recommendations, ensuring all other requirements are met.

Once the exploration program is approved, you must give the landholder/manager at least 14 days notice before you enter the property to start work.

Read the guidelines:

While all care has been taken to ensure that information contained here and in the documents below is true and correct, the Northern Territory of Australia gives no warranty or assurance, and makes no representation as to the accuracy of any information or advice, or that it is suitable for your intended use. No serious, business or investment decisions should be made in reliance on this information without obtaining independent and/or professional advice in relation to your particular situation.

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Last updated: 28 September 2020

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