Development of the Greater Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea

  • Trevor Douglas Le Lievre

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The focus of this research is the Greater Sunrise gas-condensate field, discovered in 1974 and located in the Timor Sea, north of Australia’s Northern Territory. Jointly owned by Australia and neighbouring East Timor, Greater Sunrise comprises a valuable natural resource which, however, remains untapped due to various political, economic, and legal challenges, amongst others. This outcome is detrimental to Australia’s national interest; in particular, a Darwin-based LNG-domestic gas project would provide a competitive energy source to generate sustainable development for the economically vulnerable Northern Territory. In addition, the Greater Sunrise project would realise a substantial revenue stream for both the Australian Federal and the financially constrained East Timorese governments.

    Thus, the core question underpinning the research is: Why does Greater Sunrise remain undeveloped over three decades since discovery, despite the stated aspirations of major stakeholders? To address this question a suitably robust analytical framework is developed to identify and assess salient actors and factors that have impacted on the Greater Sunrise project. Actors considered include the Australian Federal, the Northern Territory and the East Timorese Governments, along with the Greater Sunrise joint venture partners, and various NGO and civil society groups active in the project environment. Factors include dynamic global gas markets, international legal maritime boundary determinants, technical project aspects, and the paramount role of politics in influencing economic decisions.

    It is intended that the findings of the analysis will inform future policy development to promote expeditious development of valuable offshore petroleum resources, in Australia’s national interest. This objective assumes a role for government in the commercial environment which, it is acknowledged, contravenes contemporary economic orthodoxy. Thus, theoretical justification is presented by showing that the non-development of Greater Sunrise constitutes a form of market failure. Finally, it is suggested that a holistic national energy policy, including a clearly defined role for natural gas to contribute to Australia’s energy future, is the most efficacious means to provide certainty for investment in the dynamic and complex petroleum project environment.
    Date of AwardOct 2008
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRam Vemuri (Supervisor)

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