Aussie court sets aside Santos' Barossa drilling plan
Australian federal court has set aside the acceptance by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) of an environmental plan covering the drilling activities in relation to the Barossa gas project, the project operator Santos said on September 21.
The relevant drilling activities were to occur at a site in the Timor Sea, approximately140 km north of the Tiwi Islands. The drilling plan was challenged by a Tiwi Island traditional owner.
As a result of the decision, the drilling activities will be suspended pending a favourable appeal outcome or the approval of a fresh environment plan, Santos said.
The court's decision was based on a finding that NOPSEMA could not be lawfully satisfied that the plan met the criteria required by the regulations and that Santos consulted with each person that it was required by the regulations to consult with.
The Environmental Defenders Office, which handled the case for the indigenous landowners, said that the court found that Santos failed to consult Tiwi traditional owners as required, and the company must now vacate the Barossa field by October 6.
Tiwi senior lawman, Dennis Tipakalippa, launched the lawsuit in June, arguing that NOPSEMA, the federal offshore gas regulator, should not have approved Santos’ plans to drill the Barossa gas field, because Santos failed to properly consult the Munupi Clan.
Santos in its defense said it had engaged about the proposed drilling activities with the Tiwi Land Council, a representative body with statutory authority under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
Similarly, the company said it had engaged about the proposed drilling activities with the Northern Land Council, the Native Title representative body for the Tiwi Islands.
“NOPSEMA had accepted our efforts to consult with Tiwi Islanders in accordance with the regulations when it decided to accept the Environment Plan for those activities,” Santos said.
“Given the significance of this decision to us, our international joint venture partners and customers, and the industry more broadly, we consider that it should be reviewed by the full federal court on appeal,” the company added.
The Barossa project is approximately 46% complete. Barossa's gas supplies are intended to extend the life of Santos's 3.7 mn metric tons/year Darwin LNG facility in the Northern Territory. The $3.6bn investment programme got underway with the project's final investment decision last March, with the first gas due in 2025.
“The drilling activities are not on the critical path for the project and we have headroom in the project cost contingency,” Santos said.
The Barossa project is co-owned by Santos, South Korea’s SK E&S and Japan's Jera.