Indigenous Northern Territory man forces Santos gas project to stop

Indigenous man wins landmark court case bringing a massive gas drilling project to a halt over fears it could damage his people’s ‘sea country’

  • Northern Territory Indigenous elder wins court case, halts gas project in Darwin 
  • Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa launched legal action in June 
  • Said regulator shouldn’t have allowed drilling of eight wells, Barossa gas field  
  • Mr Tipakalippa said he was not consulted over the company’s plan

A Tiwi Islander has won a landmark case in the Federal Court, with drilling to be halted at a massive gas project northwest of Darwin.

Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg ruled the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority should not have approved drilling off the Tiwi Islands.

Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa launched legal action in June, saying the regulator should not have allowed Santos to drill eight wells in the Barossa gas field, 265km northwest of Darwin.

A Tiwi Islander has won a landmark case in the Federal Court, with drilling to be halted at a massive gas project northwest of Darwin (pictured, stock image of an offshore rig at sea)

A Tiwi Islander has won a landmark case in the Federal Court, with drilling to be halted at a massive gas project northwest of Darwin (pictured, stock image of an offshore rig at sea) 

Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa, right, next to Tiwi Island Regional Council Mayor Pirrawayingi Puruntatameri, after giving evidence to the court at Pitjamirra on Melville Island, Northern Territory on August 22, 2022

Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa, right, next to Tiwi Island Regional Council Mayor Pirrawayingi Puruntatameri, after giving evidence to the court at Pitjamirra on Melville Island, Northern Territory on August 22, 2022

The Munupi elder said he was not consulted over the company’s environmental plan and feared the project could damage his people’s sea-country.

Santos, Australia’s second-largest independent gas producer, said it had all necessary approvals following consultation with stakeholders.

But in a judgment handed down on Wednesday afternoon, Justice Bromberg said the regulator should not have been lawfully satisfied the project’s drilling plan met the legal criteria.

The federal court judge ordered the regulator’s approval be set aside and the current drilling injunction continue to October 6.

Santos last month agreed to halt most of its work ahead of Wednesday’s ruling.

The company said it would not drill any new wells in the Barossa gas field and stop before it breaches the gas reservoir in its initial drilling.

During last month’s week-long hearing, the court sat at Melville Island where Justice Bromberg heard from several witnesses in words, song and dance.

During last month's week-long hearing, the court sat at Melville Island where Justice Bromberg heard from several witnesses in words, song and dance (pictured)

During last month’s week-long hearing, the court sat at Melville Island where Justice Bromberg heard from several witnesses in words, song and dance (pictured) 

The court was told of the Munupi people’s connection to the land and sea, and how they feared the Santos project would damage the environment and impact their way of life and spiritual wellbeing.

Santos argued the traditional owners from the Tiwi Islands were not relevant stakeholders in the Barossa project so they would not need to be consulted.

The $US3.6 billion ($A5.2b) offshore natural gas development is expected to create up to 600 jobs and pipe gas 280km to the Darwin LNG facility, with first production expected in 2025.

The company said the project, which it purchased from ConocoPhillips in 2020, is 43 per cent complete and on schedule.

The drilling that is the subject of the court case started in July and was expected to be completed in 2025.

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