High energy prices and global instability have led to an increase in investment in prospective oil and gas projects in WA, according to resources companies and analysts.

Experts say this could lead to increased exploration activity in areas such as the Canning and Perth basins in WA’s Kimberley and Midwest regions, raising concerns among environmentalists.

Curtin University energy economist Roberto Aguilera said while “excessively high” oil and gas prices were bad news for consumers, companies were generating “very attractive” returns.

“Based on that, they are able to redirect some of those earnings towards investment in new capacity, including projects that would previously have been out of reach economically speaking.”

Mr Aguilera noted that significant investment in infrastructure would be required to bring some projects to fruition.

Scramble developing as prices soar

In WA’s Kimberley region, Buru Energy’s share price has jumped by more than 35 per cent in recent weeks on the back of new data showing a “very substantial” conventional gas reservoir at its Rafael 1 project east of Broome.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange Buru’s executive chairman Eric Streitberg said the company still had “a way to go yet” in developing the discovery.

Mining analyst Tim Treadgold says a scramble is developing for new sources of oil and gas in WA. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Nathan Morris)

But analyst Tim Treadgold said the project was an example of a discovery that had “caught the eye” of investors.

“There’s no question oil and gas has made a big return on investor radar screens … it’s only the fourth or fifth time in history that oil has sold for more than $100 a barrel,” he said.

“It’s all relating to the Ukraine war, it’s related to sanctions on Russia and the process, according to the International Energy Agency has only just started.

Industry experts say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted Australia’s vulnerability in terms of energy security. (Reuters)

Markets ‘waking up’: Industry

Damon Neaves is the CEO of junior oil exploration company Finder Energy, which has acreage in WA’s North West Shelf and in the UK North Sea.

The company is due to list on the Australian Securities Exchange next month on the back of growing investor activity in conventional energy projects.

Mr Neaves said while the war in Ukraine had further elevated energy prices, he believed significant underinvestment in oil and gas exploration since 2014, combined with increased oil consumption, meant prices would remain at a level to retain investor interest.

“We are seeing globally a change in thinking — the world has looked to renewables as part of an energy transition,” he said.

‘Extremely concerning’

Environs Kimberley executive director Martin Pritchard said the increased activity among oil and gas companies was “extremely concerning”, particularly in the context of a warming climate.

Environs Kimberley executive director Martin Pritchard.(ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

“We’re really concerned that this is heading towards opening up a new gas province in the Kimberley,” he said.

“The situation in the Ukraine is obviously having a significant impact on oil and gas prices. Nobody has a crystal ball as to how long that’s going to last.

“We see the future of the Kimberley as being based in its nature and culture — if we’re going to destroy that and turn it into an industrial gas field, then that’s going to be a huge loss to the Kimberley and the world.”

Long-term challenge

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration CEO Andrew McConville was cooler on the prospects for increased oil and gas activity in the short term.

“The fundamentals were good anyway, I think what this [Ukraine crisis] has done is brought a stronger focus on the importance of energy security,” he said.

“What we might be seeing is that the markets are realising that there is a long-term future for the industry and therefore it makes sense to invest that longer-term demand profile.

“Because of the long lead times on projects, it will be years before we start to see some of that gas flow as a result of the investments that have been made in the last 12 to 18 months.”

Extracted in full from: Energy security fears fuel investment in domestic oil and gas exploration – ABC News