About petroleum titles

The Northern Territory (NT) owns all reserves of petroleum - both onshore and in coastal waters in the NT.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade administers and regulates petroleum tenure and activities in these areas.

This includes petroleum resource exploration and development and the construction and operation of oil and gas transmission pipelines.

The petroleum titles are governed by the following legislation:

  • the Petroleum Act 1984 which is the principal legislation dealing with petroleum tenure, exploration and production activities onshore and inland waters of the NT
  • the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1981 which caters for tenure, exploration and production activities in the 3 nautical mile strip of NT coastal waters.

Petroleum titles in waters beyond the three mile limit come under the National Offshore Petroleum Titles Administrator (NOPTA).

For more information about offshore petroleum, go to the NOPTA website.

Types of petroleum titles

There are three types of petroleum titles:

  • petroleum exploration permit
  • petroleum production licence
  • petroleum retention licence or lease.

General information on the tiles is provided below.

For their purpose, term and numbers of blocks, read more about summary of petroleum title types.

Titles for exploration

The prime title for oil and gas exploration is a petroleum exploration permit.

You must apply for a petroleum exploration permit if you want to explore for oil and gas in the NT.

The permit gives you the exclusive right to explore but not produce petroleum in the title area.

The permit allows you to carry out:

  • exploratory operations for oil and gas
  • operations to establish the nature and extent of a petroleum resource you discover and the feasibility of production.

Exploration activities includes:

  • airborne gravity and magnetic surveys
  • ground-based seismic surveys
  • well drilling.

When applying for an exploration permit, you must be aware of areas which have the potential to restrict exploration activities including reserves declared under the:

Read more about how to apply for a petroleum exploration permit.

Titles for retention and production

If you discover petroleum as the holder of a petroleum exploration permit, you have the right to convert the discovery into a production licence or a retention licence or lease, if the title is not commercially viable.

These titles apply to both onshore and coastal water discoveries.

Retention licence/lease

You can apply for a retention licence or lease when you discover petroleum resources that have development potential, and are not currently commercially viable, but are likely to be viable within 10 to 15 years.

A license or lease has an initial term of five years. The licence or lease can be renewed for further five-year periods provided the resource is still not commercially viable.

If you hold a retention licence or lease, you're expected to actively work towards making the discovered resource commercially viable. Special conditions to ensure this happens may be attached to the licence or lease.

Read about how to apply for a retention licence or lease.

Production licence

A petroleum production licence gives you the right to explore, test for and produce hydrocarbons from within a licence area.

You have the right to carry out operations to recover petroleum within a licence area, eg drilling a development well.

You must carry out any operations in accordance with an approved field management plan and individual activity work approvals.

The initial term for a production licence is 21 or 25 years. A licence can be renewed for further 21 or 25 year periods.

Read more about how to apply for a production licence.

Conditions on a petroleum title

There are common conditions which apply to all petroleum titles in the NT as well as conditions which are specific to each type of permit, licence or lease.

For tenure, exploration and production activities on land and in inland waters, you must follow the requirements of the Petroleum Act 1984.

For tenure, exploration and production activities in coastal waters up to three miles from the coast, you must follow the requirements of the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1981.

You must also abide by the associated regulations and any special directions or conditions attached to your title. This includes the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016 and the Petroleum Regulations 2020.

General conditions

Once you have been granted a petroleum title, you must:

  • actively conduct authorised activities in the title area
  • comply with all requirements under the applicable laws and any other laws in force in the NT
  • comply with other conditions attached to your title when it is granted.

You must not do any of the following:

  • disturb improvements or existing roads without the written consent of the landowner
  • use water that the landowner has artificially conserved without the owner's written permission eg dam
  • interfere with any animals owned by or under the control of the landowner
  • other conditions attached to your title when it's granted.

Conditions specific to an exploration permit

When you're granted an exploration permit, you have to comply with all the general conditions listed above.

You must also comply with the conditions listed below which are specific to an exploration permit:

  • obtain the necessary approvals before you start each exploration activity
  • carry out the work described in the granted work program.

You must provide an annual report to the department every 12 months. Read more about reporting requirements.


Last updated: 02 July 2021

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