of Bass Strait oil and gas activity is a fascinating chapter in
the global petroleum industry evolution—and, ultimately, a rewarding
chapter for AAPG.
been recorded along Australia’s southern coastline since 1869, but
it wasn’t until 1960 that the offshore region was even considered.
that time former BHP executive Eric Rudd contracted Lewis Weeks,
a leading American oil field geologist who, before retiring as president
of Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon), had found oil seemingly everywhere
—it was said he studied data for all of the world’s known basins
—and was about to enjoy retirement in his Westport, Conn., home.
Weeks to help him convince BHP officials that an oil search in oil-dry
Australia should be launched.
did some studying, then met with the BHP officials and told them
he knew where oil could be found that was accessible to 90 percent
of Australia’s market.
then offered—and accepted—a 2.5 percent royalty deal. And
then he was asked, where’s the oil?
your window,” he replied. “It lies out there in the Bass Strait,
and most particularly off the Gippsland Coast.”
the Bass Strait was one of the world’s roughest water areas—the
region had been passed over since after 40 years of trying the adjacent
coastline was dotted with nothing but 140 dry holes.
to take a risk, however, and following encouraging results from
an initial aerial survey, commissioned Australia’s first offshore
seismic survey that indicated several possible oil traps in the
Gippsland Basin. Prior to drilling, however, BHP went looking for
a partner and in 1964 convinced Esso Standard Oil (Australia) Ltd.
to join the venture as a 50-50 partner.
brought in from the Gulf of Mexico spudded the first well in 1964
in water 42 meters deep, and after months of battling notorious
bad weather the drill bit reached 1,318 meters and hit gas.
pay dirt on the first ever try was almost unheard of and prompted
later the joint venture partners made a second major gas discovery
at the Marlin Field and tapped the real prize—oil.
Kingfish Field discovery soon followed, and since that time a host
of fields were uncovered in quick succession, including Halibut,
Dolphin, Perch, Flounder, Tuna, Snapper, Mackerel and Bream as well
as oil at Barracouta and West Kingfish.
peak in the mid-1980s the Bass Strait was producing over half a
million barrels of oil a day.
point the Bass Strait discoveries supplied 70 percent of Australia’s
these finds Australia was almost totally reliant on imports of petroleum
to Esso Australia, the oil and gas produced from the Bass Strait,
combined with the cost of oil that otherwise would have had to be
imported plus the tens of billions of revenue dollars paid by the
joint venture to the government, equal an enormous impact on Australia’s
AAPG, Weeks, a generous philanthropist, was able to provide the
money for the headquarters addition in Tulsa that bears his name:
the Weeks Tower. His son, geologist L. Austin Weeks, continues as
a contributor to the AAPG Foundation.