Murupi Tiwi Islanders to fight Santos-led Barossa offshore drilling project in federal court

Community leaders 80km north of Darwin have launched an extraordinary federal court battle against a multinational company.

Traditional owners of the Tiwi Islands have launched an 11-hour legal battle against a multi-billion dollar offshore gas project near Darwin.

The Munupi people are suing federal offshore oil and gas regulator NOPSEMA to challenge its decision to approve a Santos-led development in the Barossa gas field in the Timor Sea.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the community filed Australia’s first-ever legal action Tuesday to challenge lack of consultations regarding an offshore petroleum project.

Santos received approval in March to drill up to eight gas production wells off the northern beaches of the Tiwi Islands as part of a $4.7 billion pipeline development to an existing LNG facility in Darwin.

Drilling on the project could begin as early as this month.

Tiwi’s traditional owners claim they were not properly consulted by the company or the federal government about the plans, which they fear could harm the marine environment.

Senior Munupi man Dennis Tipakalippa, who represents the community as a plaintiff in the case, says the drilling project threatens the food resources, culture and way of life of his people.

“Santos says they have consulted for this drilling project, but no one spoke to me as a traditional owner and Senior Lawman for the Munupi clan,” he said.

“It is our country closest to the drilling site. We are the ones who will be affected. They never came to me personally or face-to-face. I don’t think they could face my people.”

Mr Tipakalippa and his community are particularly concerned about the risk to the sea and marine life if an oil spill occurs.

“We respect our homelands, our zealand and it takes care of us. They think they can just continue drilling our sealand without even talking to us. Enough is enough,” he said.

Lawyers for the Environmental Defenders Office will argue that NOPSEMA’s approval of the project’s environmental plan is invalid because Santos reportedly failed to consult Mr. Tipakalippa and his community.

Attorney Alina Leikin said Santos had a legal obligation to consult with people potentially affected by the drilling and the commitment to the Tiwi community could not be higher.

“This case could establish what constitutes adequate consultation with First Nations people regarding offshore gas developments,” she said.

“It could have significant implications for how mining companies view their consultation obligations with First Nations people.”

The new lawsuit comes after Tiwi’s traditional owners failed last month to get a South Korean court to rule that loans for the Barossa project should be halted.

Santos is the largest owner and operator of the development, co-owned by Japanese energy company JERA and South Korean energy company SK E&S.

Santos has said the development of Barossa and the upgrade to the Darwin LNG facility will create 600 jobs during the construction phase and secure 350 jobs over the next 20 years of production.

A spokeswoman for Santos said the company would not comment on the case while it was in court.

Originally published as Tiwi Islanders to fight Santos-led offshore drilling project in federal court

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