With oil and gas companies reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian government has now taken steps to provide some support to the sector.

Offshore oil and gas explorers will be offered a simplified application process to suspend and extend existing work programs, as well as further flexibility to be applied to well expectations in the renewal of exploration permits.

This mirrors similar measures extended in late March to junior explorers in Western Australia.

Additionally, the 2020 offshore petroleum acreage will proceed as planned with some adjustments including an increased consultation period on nominated areas and an alternative to the public launch event later this year.

READ: Big production cuts are coming, but is it enough to ignite oil prices?

“The offshore petroleum industry in Australia faces challenging times in the current environment,” Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said.

“It is critical that explorers are offered greater flexibility as they are key to ensuring Australia’s energy security into the future.”

The move drew predictable responses in support and condemnation from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) and Greenpeace respectively.

APPEA says the measures will allow companies to respond quickly when the health crisis abates and the economy recovers.

APPEA chief executive Andrew McConville says smaller explorers, which typically play key roles in the identification and development of new energy resources, would benefit most from the measures.

“Current economic conditions have the potential to irreparably damage oil and gas exploration in Australia unless steps are taken to provide short-term relief to allow companies to remain in business until the economy has moved through the worst of the downturn,” McConville said.

“Successful exploration can deliver revenue for governments, jobs for workers and long-term energy security for Australia.”

However, Greenpeace said allowing explorers to hold drilling rights that they would normally lose was a desperate lifeline thrown to companies that had failed to adapt to a carbon constrained world by shifting to clean energy.

“This is a disgraceful announcement. While Australians are worried for their health and welfare, the government is using coronavirus as an excuse to make it easier to extend the deadline for existing oil,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

“The number one priority right now is protecting the health and wellbeing of Australians, yet this announcement shows the profits of the fossil fuel industry are being put first.

“This move will overwhelmingly favour overseas oil companies who are notorious tax avoiders, and contribute nothing to Australia while driving the climate damage behind this summer’s severe bushfire season.”

NOW READ: Offshore oil and gas now feeling the pain of low prices