Santos Ltd. has lost its bid to restart drilling in the $3.6 billion Barossa gas field development in the Timor Sea 265 km north northwest of Darwin.
The full Federal Court Dec. 2 dismissed the company’s appeal and upheld an earlier decision that the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) should not have approved drilling in Barossa field.
The original case was brought by Tiwi Islander and Munupi man Dennis Tipakalippa in June this year when he launched legal action against Santos, claiming he was not consulted over the company’s environmental plan for the development work.
Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg ruled in Tipakalippa’s favor in September and ordered the drilling program be stopped.
Santos appealed in November, arguing Justice Bromberg had not properly considered what constituted a “relevant person” who needed to be consulted. Under the regulations, a relevant person was someone whose “functions, interests or activities” could be affected by the drilling work.
The Santos appeal agreed that the Tiwi Islands’ traditional owners had a genuine connection to the sea country, but argued that it did not constitute the type of legal interest required.
The appeal was fast-tracked, and Federal Court justices Susan Kenny, Debra Mortimer, and Michael Lee rejected that proposition, saying that the Tiwi Islanders’ interests were “immediate and direct.”
Within the regulatory framework, ‘interests’ includes cultural and spiritual interests of the kind described in the sea country material in the drilling environment plan and the attachments, the judges said.
The Federal Court also rejected Santos’ claim that it would be unworkable to identify and consult with every traditional owner who held an interest in the project.
Following the decision, Santos said it has consulted with traditional owners and representative bodies on the Barossa gas project since 2016 and will continue to do so, considering the guidance provided by the Court.
Santos is revising the drilling environment plan to address matters contained in the judgement. “The company will proceed with applications for all remaining approvals in accordance with the guidance provided by the Court,” it said.
“As a result, Santos does not anticipate any material cost or schedule impact, and first gas from the Barossa project remains on track to be delivered in the first half of 2025.”
The project, which was 43% complete before the September court decision, will send Barossa gas via undersea pipeline for 280 km to the existing Darwin LNG plant to replace gas supply from the depleting Bayu-Undan gas field in the East Timor sector of the Timor Sea.