A judge in court

A federal court has ruled in favour of Santos following a legal battle against Tiwi Islands elders over its $5.7 billion Barossa gas project, allowing the company to continue building an underwater pipeline in the Timor Sea. 

A group of First Nations elders, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, applied to the court for an injunction in November 2023 alleging that Santos had failed to properly assess whether its 263km pipeline would damage sacred sites.

The injunction said that Santos had failed to properly address potential risks to underwater sacred sites and culturally significant spiritual beings such as the Crocodile Man and Mother Ampiji, also known as the Rainbow Serpent. 

The court said that there was disagreement among relevant Tiwi Islanders about the significance of these sites and concluded that “the evidence establishes nothing more than a negligible chance that there may be objects of archaeological value in the area of the pipeline route.”

Industry comments

The ruling was welcomed by the Australian Resources & Energy Employer Association (AREEA).

AREEA said it believed the ruling was a considered and sensible outcome that will inject confidence into the offshore oil and gas industry.

AREEA also said the Barossa pipeline is a key project in demonstrating that Australia remains one of the world’s best destinations for offshore energy development worth over $5 billion in capital expenditure.

Important projects held up in environmental and land access lawfare are not in the interests of Australia’s future energy stability or LNG export earnings, the benefits of which the whole community enjoys, AREEA said.

AREEA believes the decision will be celebrated by many small and medium businesses involved in the construction of the pipeline and several hundred workers set to benefit from job opportunities.

AREEA also said the assurance is vital for the long-term future of an industry on the precipice of a new wave of investment, with committed projects set to tip $80 billion into Australia’s engineering, construction and related industries by 2028.

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