Santos pauses drilling on $4.7b gas project until Federal Court decision


Gas giant Santos has promised to slow down its development of a $4.7 billion gas project in waters off Darwin that is being challenged by Tiwi traditional owners.

The Munupi clan on the Tiwi Islands are fighting to stop the company’s drilling in the basin north of the islands, arguing they were not properly consulted before the multi-billion-dollar project was approved.

After a week of evidence, including some heard in a special on-country hearing Justice Mordecai Bromberg heard Santos would pause drilling the Barossa gas fields before it reached a Timor Sea gas reservoir until a Federal Court decision could be reached.

The company also agreed to not drill any new wells until Justice Bromberg made a decision.

The Munupi clan welcomed Justice Mordecai Bromberg and lawyers with a smoking ceremony at Pitjimirra this week. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)

An environmental law group representing the traditional owners had argued that the federal approval granted in February was unlawful because Santos had not adequately consulted all relevant stakeholders.

At the final stage before approval, the Environmental Defender’s Office said Santos’s consultation was limited to two emails and a phone message sent to the Tiwi Land Council, all of which went unanswered.

Tiwi locals watch on during the on-country Federal Court hearing on the islands.
Clan watched from the sides of the beachside court hearing this week.(ABC News: Tristan Hooft)

Santos, as well as federal offshore gas regulator the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Agency (NOPSEMA) — which granted the approval — have argued the gas company did fulfil its obligations.

The gas company said consultation with Tiwi Traditional Owners started in 2016, with some later consultation efforts derailed by COVID-19 restrictions limiting travel to remote communities.

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