Tiwi Traditional Owners, the Environmental Defenders Office and Environment Centre NT have today welcomed a decision by the offshore oil and gas regulator (NOPSEMA), after it directed Santos to delay construction of the proposed Barossa Gas Export Pipeline until an independent assessment of submerged cultural heritage is conducted

In a general direction to Santos issued earlier this month, NOPSEMA confirmed it conducted “short notice” inspections of Santos facilities on 21 and 22 December 2022, where it learned Santos was planning to begin building a pipeline to the Barossa gas field at the end of January 2023.  

NOPSEMA identified that Santos was required to obtain more information about environmental risks of pipeline construction to underwater cultural heritage, which impacts were not identified in its environmental approval (EP) covering the pipeline. 

NOPSEMA confirmed that Santos “gave an undertaking not to commence pipeline construction” until this process was completed. 

NOPSEMA determined that the direction was required to ensure that any risks to underwater cultural heritage to which people may have spiritual and cultural connections in accordance with Indigenous tradition were appropriately identified and mitigated. 

This is another huge blow to Santos and the Barossa gas project, which had its approvals to drill the Barossa gas field overturned by the Federal Court in September last year following a successful legal challenge from Tiwi Island Traditional Owner Dennis Tipakalippa, who argued Santos failed to consult him and his clan about the drilling as required by the law.  

Therese Wokay Bourke, Malawu Traditional Owner (Tiwi Islands), said: “I feel relieved, grateful and happy that NOPSEMA have listened to us.  

“We are sea people. It is my birthright and responsibility as a traditional owner of the Tiwi Islands to protect the spirit of our sea country. It is vital that we have time to map out our underwater cultural heritage so that it can be preserved for all Tiwi people, for now and in the future.  

“Tiwi people must lead this process because we are the experts of our cultural heritage.” 

Simon Munkara, Jikilaruwu Traditional Owner (Tiwi Islands), said: “This is very serious for us. We want Santos to stop and communicate with us before starting any work on the pipeline because they might destroy our cultural and spiritual connections.” 

EDO Special Counsel Alina Leikin said: “We welcome NOPSEMA’s decision because it recognises this pipeline poses significant risks to Tiwi cultural and spiritual heritage, and because it requires Santos to comprehensively assess those risks. 

“Our Tiwi clients look forward to receiving further details and playing a central role in any assessment of cultural heritage to ensure its effectiveness. 

 “We will continue to work closely with our Tiwi clients to ensure their rights are upheld and their cultural heritage, in all its forms, is preserved for current and future generations.” 

Kirsty Howey, Executive Director of Environment Centre NT: “Santos’ Barossa Project has again been brought to a shuddering halt. 

“While Santos tries to assure shareholders that the project is on track, there is no doubt that this process will blow out Santos’ timetable. Shareholders and investors should be asking whether this project will ever reach the finish line.”