Australian Offshore Petroleum Releases
Every March, the Australian government makes new undersea areas available for oil companies to sign contracts so that they can explore the seabed for oil and gas resources. If they find anything, the companies are then allowed to extract it, with royalties and taxes going to the government. Although Australia pretends that these are within Australian territory, each of the last three annual releases have included areas north of the median line between Australia and East Timor, which will likely be within East Timor's Exclusive Economic Zone when boundaries are settled in line with international legal principles.
In the 2001 release, only a corner of NT01-3 intrudes into East Timor's territory.
On 20 September 2002, Australia awarded a contract for this area, now called NT/P62, to National Oil & Gas Pty Ltd (35%, operator), Australian Natural Gas Pty Ltd (35%), and Nations Natural Gas Pty Ltd (30%). These partners proposed a guaranteed program for the first three years of 500km 2D seismic survey and geoscience studies at an estimated cost of $1.15m. The companies also proposed a secondary program of 1 well and studies at an estimated cost of $15.45m. There were no other bids for the area.
Australia's 2002 release also intrudes on East Timor's territory. Nearly all of NT02-1, adjacent to Greater Sunrise, would belong to East Timor with a fair, legal boundary settlement. The following map shows their Northern Territory areas. See the larger-scale map above for details.
On 22 April 2003, the Australian government awarded a permit for area NT02-1. Permit NT/P65 was given to a consortium comprising National Oil and Gas Pty Ltd, Australian Natural Gas Pty Ltd and Nations Natural Gas Pty Ltd. The consortium proposed a guaranteed program for the first three years of geological and geophysical studies, seismic reprocessing and 750km of new 2D seismic surveying at an estimated cost of $1.7m, and secondary program of geological and geophysical studies and a well at an estimated cost of $15.45m. There were no other bids for the area.
Area NT03-3 from the 2003 release
In May 2003, Australian government representatives visited the United States and Canada to interest oil companies in signing production sharing contracts in the newly released areas. The East Timor Action Network (ETAN/U.S.) distributed "Stop, Thief" (PDF) leaflets at some of their events.
In November 2003, East Timor's government officials wrote to Australia objecting to Australia releasing areas in disputed territory for exploration contracts.
On 23 February 2004, Australia signed an exploration permit for area NT03-3, now called NT/P68, with TSP Arafura Petroleum Pty Ltd and OZ-Exoil N.L..
In March 2004, Australia's annual release again included areas within East Timor's territory, both east and west of the JPDA. East Timor's government protested immediately.
In the Guidance Notes for Applicants which accompanied this release, the Australian government acknowledges that East Timor claims this territory. For areas W04-1, NT04-1 & 2 and AC04-1 & 2, Australia wrote:
In fact, the East Timor government's declared 200 mile claim encompasses many more of the areas released by Australia than they acknowledge above. The areas discussed on this page are only those which are closer to East Timor than they are to Australia, which is the portion of East Timor's legal claim which La'o Hamutuk expects is likely to belong to East Timor under a fair legal boundary. East Timor has not declared a continental shelf, as this is an outdated concept (which Australian continues to insist on).
Australia's justification for continuing to "exercise exclusive sovereign rights" because it has done so "for an extended period of time" is tantamount to an admission that they are continuing to benefit from their support for Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor.
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)