Santos halts Barossa drilling while Court weighs decision

Tiwi Islands Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa (santos)
Tiwi Islands Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa (Image: Rebecca Parker)

Gas company Santos has agreed not to drill any new wells in the Barossa gas field, offshore north of Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, and to stop before it breaches the gas reservoir in its initial drilling, while the court considers its decision after a week-long historic Federal Court hearing. 

Related article: Federal Court heads to Tiwi Islands for on-Country evidence

Tiwi Senior Lawman Dennis Tipakalippa is suing NOPSEMA, the federal offshore gas regulator, over its approval of Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field, alleging that proper consultation did not occur with the Munupi Clan. He is being represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.

Traditional Owners told the court that Santos’ Barossa offshore gas project poses a risk to sacred sites and spiritual connection to Sea Country that has spanned millennia, as they argue they were not properly consulted about Santos’ plans to drill the offshore field. 

Santos began its initial drilling activities last month, but has promised the court it would cease its drilling before the gas reservoir was reached—an event described by Tipakalippa and other Munupi witnesses during the hearing as culturally and spiritually damaging—while the court considers its decision. Santos also promised not to commence the drilling of any new wells at this stage.

The Federal Court heard the judicial review in Darwin after taking evidence from Traditional Owners on-Country in the Tiwi Islands earlier this week including in the form of song and dance. 

The next hearing in the case will occur on September 16, where the Judge will either hear arguments relating to an injunction to restrain further drilling or deliver a decision.

Related article: Woodside and Santos announce surging revenues

Plaintiff, Senior Lawman and Tiwi Traditional Owner Dennis Tipakalippa said, “Drilling into the seabed is like drilling into our bodies. I’m relieved that Santos will drop drilling before it gets to the gas and will not start any new well—that is a big worry for us, so it’s very important to get that promise. 

“This week, we have had our voices heard. We will fight to protect our Sea Country, from the beginning to the end.”

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