Fossil fuel company Santos has agreed not to drill any new wells in the Barossa gas field, and to stop before it breaches the gas reservoir in its initial drilling, whilst the court considers its decision after a week-long historic Federal Court hearing.  

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 today promised the court it would cease its drilling before the gas reservoir was reached – an event described by Mr Tipakalippa and other Munupi witnesses during the hearing as culturally and spiritually damaging – whilst 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 16th at 9:30AM, where the Judge will either hear arguments relating to an injunction to restrain further drilling or deliver a decision. 

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.” 

Environmental Defenders Office Special Counsel Alina Leikin said:  

“Santos has agreed to an action today not to hit gas in the Barossa field while we await a final decision. They have also promised not to commence drilling any other wells at this stage.  

“The court has heard compelling evidence this week about the cultural and spiritual significance of this Sea Country, and what is at stake for Mr Tipakalippa and the Munupi Clan if the drilling plans proceed. ” 

Energy campaigner at the Environment Centre NT Jason Fowler said: 

“Santos’ agreement not to drill into gas at the offshore Barossa gas field is welcome news.  

“Not only is the Barossa gas field one of the most polluting offshore gas fields in Australia, but as we have heard this week, drilling holes through that seabed would cause cultural and spiritual harm to the Sea Country of the Tiwi people. 

“The risks of this project, for the climate, for marine life, for the Traditional Owners, are simply too great.”