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imageSYDNEY: US energy firm Apache on Monday announced an oil discovery off northwestern Australia which it said could potentially represent a new oil province for the country.

The find at the Phoenix South-1 well is the first for Apache Energy in the Canning Basin, some 180 kilometres (112 miles) north of the Western Australian town of Port Hedland.

"Although evaluation is at an early stage, Phoenix South-1 is an exciting result," said Apache's executive vice-president and chief operating officer for international operations, Thomas E. Voytovich.

"The oil and reservoir quality we have seen point to a commercial discovery. If these results are borne out by further appraisal drilling, Phoenix South may represent a new oil province for Australia."

The company said in a statement it had confirmed at least four discrete oil columns.

"Measurements from the sampled zones indicate a productive oil reservoir with preliminary estimates that there might be as much as 300 million barrels of oil in place," it said.

The company cautioned that evaluation of the find was underway, and additional analysis was needed.

Carnarvon Petroleum, which holds a 20 percent interest in the exploration permit, said the discovery represented one of the most significant developments in Australian oil and gas in recent times.

It said while it was too early to quantify the recoverable volumes of oil, this information could be available by the end of the year.

"This is the most significant new oil play in the North West Shelf since the Enfield discovery opened up the Exmouth Basin almost 20 years ago," Carnarvon managing director Adrian Cook said.

"The implications on the rest of our acreage are still being assessed, but the potential is extraordinary."

Western Australia is rich in resources, with mining and petroleum the largest contributors to the state's economy.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2014