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Front cover of South Australia's Hydrogen Action Plan

Hydrogen Action Plan

In September 2019 South Australia’s Hydrogen Action Plan launched with an initial focus on green hydrogen from renewable energy sources. SA also offers a free Hydrogen Export Prospectus and Online Modelling Tool, released in October 2020.

CCS and hydrogen in the Cooper Basin

Santos are progressing clean hydrogen and by 2030 aim to use Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to improve economic feasibility of clean hydrogen while reducing Cooper Basin emissions. Santos state that Moomba has “the lowest-cost carbon capture and storage project in the world” with potential to inject 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year for 50 years.

Hydrogen exploration in South Australia

On 11 February 2021 the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Regulations 2013 were amended to declare hydrogen, hydrogen compounds and by-products from hydrogen production regulated substances under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000. Companies are now able to apply to explore for natural hydrogen via a PEL and the transmission of hydrogen or compounds of hydrogen are now permissible under the transmission pipeline licencing provisions of the PGE Act. The current review of the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 proposes it becoming the ‘one stop shop’ for hydrogen with a new name – the Energy Resources Act.

Potential exists for natural hydrogen plays in South Australia – Gaucher (2020) indicated that there are two main geological settings where hydrogen could be generated - Proterozoic crystalline shields and serpentinized ultramaļ¬c rocks in mid-ocean ridges and in land-based ophiolite-peridotite massifs. Using a hydrocarbon play analogue, once generated in basement source rocks, hydrogen needs a migration pathway to a trap with a reservoir and effective seal in sedimentary cover to build an accumulation - which then has to be preserved in a geological timeframe.

Potential natural hydrogen source rocks include ultrabasic rocks and iron-rich cratons (hydrogen generation from the oxidation of Fe(II) bearing mineral such as siderite, biotite, or amphibole by water) and uranium-rich basement with hydrogen generated by radiolysis of water (Gaucher, 2020). On that basis, potential basement sources of natural hydrogen may occur in the:

Visit the Minerals website for maps and information on basement geology, and access spatial datasets from SARIG.

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Historic drilling and exploration

Hydrogen has been detected in wells in the Cooper Basin and on Kangaroo Island and southern Yorke Peninsula (Zgonnik, 2020). Ward (1932, 1933 and 1941) reported the results of gas analyses from two shallow oil bores, American Beach Oil Bore 1 on Kangaroo Island and Minlaton Oil Syndicate Bore (Ramsay Oil Bore 1) drilled on central Yorke Peninsula, both of which recorded high levels of hydrogen. Gas samples were taken from the wells by Departmental officers (sample volumes were not reported) for analyses by the Works Chemist at the SA Gas Works.

Table 1. Analysis of gas samples taken from Ramsay Oil Bore 1 and American Beach Bore 1, with hydrogen levels highlighted.

Well Ramsay Oil Bore 1
(Minlaton Oil Syndicate Bore)
American Beach Bore 1
Sample depth (m) 240.8 262.1 507.8 187.4 289.5
Formation Parara Limestone Kanmantoo Group
Gas composition (%): 
Carbon dioxide 0.2 0.8 0 5.3 0.52
Oxygen 0 2.4 1.2 4.3 3.55
Ethlyene etc. 0 0 0 0.5 0
Carbon monoxide 0 0 0 0 0
Hydrogen 76 64.4 84 51.3 68.64
Methane 7.5 7 0 2.6 4.68
Nitrogen (by difference) 16.3 25.4 14.8 36 22.61  

Photo of Minlaton Oil prospecting syndicate, Yorke Peninsula no 1 well, collecting gases from sludge pump. Photo no. N001671.In their paper presenting a screening methodology to scout for hydrogen occurrences in stable intracratonic settings above Archean to Proterozoic basement Moretti et al. (2021) referred to Ward’s reports on the hydrogen shows and identified ‘fairy circles’ on Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroos Island and in WA. ‘Fairy circles’ are depressions on land caused by venting of hydrogen or gas. They concluded that “The comparison suggests that Australia could be one of the most promising areas for H2 exploration, de facto a couple of wells already found H2, whereas they were drilled to look for hydrocarbons. The sum of areas from where H2 is seeping overpasses 45 km2 in Kangaroo Island as in the Yorke Peninsula.”

The fairy circles identified by Moretti et al. (2021) are roughly circular ephemeral salt lakes that occur on the downthrown side of the Warooka Fault (MAITLAND and KINGSCOTE 1:250,000 Map sheets and MAITLAND Explanatory Notes). The lakes were studied in detail by Jack (1921) and King (1952) as they investigated salt and gypsum deposits in SA - Lake Fowler, the largest lake, has been a site of gypsum extraction (see also Crawford, 1965). Some lakes are fed by active springs in winter. Permo-Carboniferous glacial deposits (the Cape Jervis Fm consists of massive green-grey silts and erratics) are exposed on the margins of some of the lakes and erratics are exposed on some lake floors.


Crawford, 1965. The Geology of Yorke Peninsula. Geol. Surv. S. Aust Bulletin 39.

Gaucher, E.C., 2020.  New Perspectives in the Industrial Exploration for Native Hydrogen. Elements 16(1):8-9.

King, D., 1952. Lake Fowler Gypsum Deposits. S. Aust. Min. Rev. 92, pp. 60·67.

Moretti, I., Brouilly, E., Loiseau, K. and Deville, E. 2021. Hydrogen Emanations in Intracratonic Areas: New Guide Lines. Geosciences 2021, 11, 145.

Jack, R.L., 1921. The Salt and Gypsum Resources of South Australia. Geol. Surv. S. Aust. Bull 8, 118.

Ward L.K., 1922. Prospects of the American Beach (KI) Oil Co. NL at the boresite, Section 134 Hundred Dudley. Geol. Surv. S. Aust Report Book 8/151.

Ward, L.K., 1932a. Inflammable gases occluded in the pre-palaeozoic rocks of South Australia. Geol. Surv. S. Aust Report Book 13/137.

Ward, L.K., 1932b. Government Geologist, 1932. The search for oil—notes by the Government Geologist. Geol. Surv. S. Aust, Mining Review 55, pp 39-42.

Ward, L.K., 1933. Inflammable gases occluded in the pre-palaeozoic rocks of South Australia. Trans. R. Soc. S. Aust. 1933, 57, pp 42–47.

Ward, L.K., 1941. Report on search for petroleum in South Australia. Geol. Surv. S. Aust Report Book 18/135.

Zgonnik, V., 2020. The occurrence and geoscience of natural hydrogen: a comprehensive review. Earth Science Reviews 203, 103140.

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