‘Wait for an invitation’: Indigenous community has Santos’ Barossa gas project on hold: SMH

Peter Milne

September 21

Santos has run into more problems obtaining construction approvals for its $5.6 billion Barossa gas project after a remote Northern Territory Indigenous community insisted the gas company deal with it as a group.

“Santos are like a pest,” 13 Minjilang people said in a statement after a community meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting, which included senior elders and traditional owners from the 300-strong community on Croker Island – 230 kilometres north-east of Darwin – was held to agree on how to consult Santos on its plans to drill the Barossa field for gas.

“We have told Santos not to come into our community without being invited, they should listen to us,” the statement said.

A year ago today, the Federal Court ruled Santos did not properly consult Tiwi Islanders before obtaining drilling approval from the offshore environment regulator NOPSEMA. The shock ruling – confirmed in December when the full Federal Court rejected an appeal from Santos – has forced it to pay for an expensive drilling rig to lie idle ever since.

After the decision, many offshore oil and gas producers pulled their plans from the regulatory approval system to conduct more consultation to reduce the risk of a legal challenge, with many in the fossil fuel sector decrying added difficulty in progressing projects.

Resources minister Madeleine King rejected the call when she told parliament in August that the government accepted the court’s decision and all industry – including the oil and gas sector – must genuinely consult First Nations people.

“We are not looking to change that at all,” she said.

In early 2021, Santos and its Japanese and South Korean partners committed to a $5.6 billion plan to pipe gas 300 kilometres from the Barossa field to an export plant in Darwin, but currently, they have no approval for any offshore activities.

Santos claims Barossa is 66 per cent complete – indicating more than $3 billion has already been spent.


Santos resubmitted its drilling plan in July. Isabelle Lami Lami, a Minjilang traditional owner, subsequently said the company had “just rocked up on a helicopter” after being told to wait until the community met to agree on how to deal with the company.

To comply with the new law from the Federal Court, the regulator recommended companies tailor their consultation.

Regulator NOPSEMA has said it could not provide an expected time to approve or reject the Barossa drilling plan due to “the complexity and sensitivity of this assessment”.

Having one community believe appropriate consultation has not yet started could impact Santos’ plan to restart drilling in December.

The 13 Minjilang people said in the statement they do not want the Barossa project to go ahead.

“Sacred sites are all around our islands.”

“This is our hunting area … we need to think of our kids, this is our country. If Santos destroys it, what are we going to do?”

Proponents of offshore oil and gas projects have to consult all affected stakeholders – not just Indigenous groups – but their support is not necessary for the regulator to grant approval.

In January, Santos suffered a further setback when it stopped installation of the crucial pipeline from Barossa to Darwin until concerns there could be Indigenous heritage sites along the route are addressed.

Last week, Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher blamed “climate activists” for the company’s troubles with Indigenous consultation.

Santos did not respond to questions before publication.