Indigenous Group Seeks to Block Santos Gas Pipeline Offshore Australia

Credit: ConocoPhillips (File Photo) - ConocoPhillips sold its stake in the Barossa project to Santos in 2020
Credit: ConocoPhillips (File Photo) - ConocoPhillips sold its stake in the Barossa project to Santos in 2020

Australia said on Tuesday it was reviewing an emergency application by an indigenous group seeking to block pipeline construction on Santos Ltd's $3.6-billion Barossa gas project off northern Australia.

Six indigenous elders on the Tiwi Islands urged Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to make a declaration to protect their heritage, which they said was at immediate risk of desecration from the construction.

"The department is considering the short-term emergency application," a department spokesperson said in an email, adding that such requests were considered in order of urgency and had different criteria. 

Santos, which aims to start producing gas from Barossa in the first half of 2025, referred to the findings of an independent expert that there were no specific underwater cultural heritage sites along the planned route of the pipeline.

"There is no risk of desecration of any underwater cultural heritage from the construction of the Barossa pipeline," a spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the six elders did not speak for all 2,700 residents of the Tiwi Islands.

But the Tiwi elders who filed the application said the pipeline would cause significant damage to ancient burial grounds, aboriginal art and other sacred ancestral sites.

"This will impact our spirituality and destroy our health, our home and our lives," one of them, Molly Munkara, said in a statement.

Santos was informed of the concerns but planned to begin pipeline construction soon, the group said. If the government grants urgent protection to the area, Santos might be forced to halt its plans. 

The elders' decision to seek government intervention could pose another hurdle for the project after the offshore regulator ordered Santos in January to evaluate the environmental risks to underwater indigenous cultural heritage before starting pipeline work.

The order did not prohibit the start of work, but the regulator had said it expected Santos would not begin any work whose outcome had not been "adequately identified, evaluated and managed".

(Reuters - Reporting by Renju Jose and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez)

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