The search for onshore gas in the Beetaloo Basin has come to an abrupt halt.
Santos has also deferred its drilling activities in the Beetaloo Basin.
Speaking at the company's annual meeting today, Santos' chairman Keith Spence said plans to drill two exploration wells in the Northern Territory, which had been delayed from 2019 to this year, would now be delayed beyond 2020 because of spending cutbacks.
He said testing of the Tanumbirini-1 well would be halted and the well shut in to help keep COVID-19 out of the remote region.
Origin Energy has also deferred its drilling work.
Empire Energy has also decided to defer its investment decision regarding the timing of the drilling of Carpentaria-1 in the Beetaloo, "until we are confident that we will be able to drill the well appropriately and minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19".
Empire received drilling approvals for its first well in January.
"We have engaged Netherland Sewell & Associates, a respected petroleum consulting firm based in Dallas, Texas, which is generating an independent prospective resource report for release in the second quarter. We believe it will demonstrate that a substantial petroleum resource exists in Empire's Northern Territory properties which cover over 14.5m acres in the Beetaloo and McArthur Basins," the company said.
Opponents of the drilling program today welcomed the halt to exploration programs.
More reading: Explorers say there's lots of gas there.
Estelle Fararr, an Aboriginal elder from Roper Valley whose homelands are covered by Santos' exploration permits near Tanumbirini Station said, "We never wanted this gas fracking to come to our homelands in the first place. Now that the company has said they will be leaving we are very happy. We want to tell Santos not to come back, respect our people and our country. It's not yours to frack."
Territory pastoralist Daniel Tapp, whose station in the Roper region is blanketed by a Santos gas exploration permit, also welcomed the decision.
"While we welcome the decision today to pause activities beyond 2020, the company should now have the decency to give landholders certainty by packing up and relinquishing its remaining exploration permits so we can get on with managing our land and livelihoods without the threat of dangerous fracking."
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