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Court orders Santos to delay planned Barossa pipeline


A Tiwi traditional owner has won a last-minute bid to delay Santos laying a major gas pipeline off the Northern Territory, hours before work was due to begin.

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Simon Munkara, a member of the Jikilaruwu clan, applied for an urgent injunction in the Federal Court to prevent Adelaide-based Santos from commencing pipeline work while his case is heard.

Munkara argues Santos has not properly assessed submerged cultural heritage along the route of its Barossa export pipeline, which runs within 7km of Bathurst Island.

Judge Natalie Charlesworth granted the injunction blocking the works on Thursday, hours before Santos was due to start laying the pipe.

Santos submitted the delay to its $5.3 billion Barossa gas development would have significant financial impacts to stakeholders, but Justice Charlesworth ruled the damage to Tiwi traditional owners could be worse.

“I am satisfied that if the works were to continue and if Santos is in breach … that there will be irreparable damage to Mr Munkara,” she said on Thursday morning.

“I am not satisfied that the short-term relief that is presently sought would be such as to render the pipeline program impossible.”

The judge said the costs of delaying the ship, which was set to begin laying the pipe this week, are significant, but Santos should have been prepared.

“In its business operations, we expect that Santos would accommodate risks of the kind involved with cessation or disruption of works,” she said.

Santos and Munkara will return to court on November 13 for a hearing to determine whether the gas company will need to reassess the environmental impacts of the pipeline.

Santos is not permitted to lay any part of the pipe until then.

In a statement this afternoon, Santos said it had “complied with a General Direction issued by the regulator NOPSEMA in January 2023 in relation to impacts on underwater cultural heritage places to which Indigenous people have spiritual and cultural connections”.

“An independent expert anthropologist concluded there were no such underwater cultural heritage places, following interviews with around 170 Tiwi people and extensive archaeological and anthropological literature and studies. These studies included consideration of independent expert archaeological, geological and sedimentological assessment of the pipeline route,” it said.

Santos said the pipelaying ship would stay in Darwin and no work connected with the pipeline would occur during the interim injunction.

“Guidance on Barossa cost and schedule remains unchanged. Santos will assess any impact on the schedule and cost of the Barossa Gas Project if the injunction is extended beyond 13 November 2023 and will update the market accordingly,” it said.

“Santos will continue to defend the proceedings at the next court date.”

-with AAP

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