The Western Australian government is lifting its onshore fracking ban – a move that has been welcomed by junior oil and gas players.

Late last year the government said it would open 2 per cent of the state up to fracking — the areas already covered by existing exploration and production licences.

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Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting oil and gas from small fissures underground. A high-pressure mixture of soapy liquid and sand is flushed down a well to crack open pores in rock and allow the gas or liquid to escape.

It’s a controversial method of oil and gas exploration that has been met with stiff opposition from environmental groups, but an enquiry undertaken by the government late last year classified the risk as minimal.

The Northern Territory last year loosened its fracking ban — with conditions — after the inquiry. Victoria and NSW, however, maintain their absolute moratoriums.

Industry advocate, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), said the plan highlighted there were robust regulations in place for onshore exploration and development in WA.

“Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in Western Australia for more than 60 years and the independent scientific inquiry confirmed that properly regulated, hydraulic fracturing is a safe practice,” CEO Andrew McConville said.

Until now Whitebark Energy (ASX:WBE) had been unable to advance its Warro gas project located 200km north of Perth.

Whitebark welcomed the release of the WA government’s “Fracturing Implementation Plan”. The news sent shares up 25 per cent to 0.5c on Tuesday morning.

“This marks the end of the ban on onshore fracking and companies may now submit applications to the EPA for review,” the company said.

“The Warro project can now anticipate a timeframe when further work at the field can be considered.

“The field has been appraised by the drilling, fracking and testing of four wells which have confirmed the presence of a substantial gas resource.”

Other companies with oil and gas projects in WA include Buru Energy (ASX:BRU) and Rey Resources (ASX:REY).

Buru found unconventional gas in the Canning Basin and fracked three wells, but was prevented from further work by the moratorium.


In other ASX energy news:

Strike Energy (ASX:STX) is facing hurdles with drilling its West Erregulla-2 well in the Perth Basin. The company has drilled down to 3,617m and encountered the Kockatea formation. While the Kockatea is a well-established source rock for other Perth Basin oil and gas discoveries, drilling through it has been “significantly slower than anticipated”, Strike noted.

Winchester Energy (ASX:WEL) has reported an additional “good oil and gas show” from drilling the Lower Cisco Sand target in its Arledge 16#2 well in Texas. The show was observed over a 30-foot gross interval from 5,020 feet deep. Oil shows with good fluorescence and cut, with minor gas also occurred over a gross 40 feet interval from 5,080 feet.