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Santos wins Timor Sea gas pipeline court battle

The Federal Court has dismissed a Tiwi Islander challenge against Santos’ $5 billion gas pipeline in the Timor Sea.

The Federal Court has dismissed Tiwi Islanders’ challenge against Santos’ gas pipeline in the Timor Sea.

Jikilaruwu traditional owner Simon Munkara lodged civil enforcement proceedings in the Federal Court in October against Santos over its Barossa gas export pipeline, saying that cultural heritage would be at risk by its construction.

Munkara asked the court for an immediate short-term injunction to prevent Santos from beginning work to install its Barossa export pipeline, as well as a wider injunction to prevent the work going ahead until Santos had revised its environmental plan, so that the pipeline’s impact and risk to underwater cultural heritage were properly assessed.

Justice Natalie Charlesworth granted the emergency interim injunction, stopping work from beginning on the pipeline, just hours before it was due to start in early November.

After a further hearing in November Justice Charlesworth granted a partial interim injunction to restrain work on the pipeline, except for in an area about 75km north of the Tiwi Islands and further.

On Monday Justice Charlesworth dismissed the Tiwi Islanders’ case and awarded costs to Santos.

In March 2020 the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental  Management Authority (NOPSEMA) accepted Santos’ environment plan for construction of the pipeline.

The Tiwi applicants argued there was a significant new environmental impact or risk.

Tiwi Islanders told the court that there are a number of cultural features along the area of the pipeline route.

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They said the Jikilaruwu, Munupi and Malawu peoples of the Tiwi Islands have a spiritual connection to the area of sea country through which the pipeline will pass and its construction will damage in a number of ways.

The pipeline will disturb the travels of an ancestral being of fundamental importance in their culture, Ampiji, a rainbow serpent, the traditional owners argued.

Tiwi people also argued that the pipeline would disturb the Jirakupai or the Crocodile Man songline, which runs from Cape Fourcroy on the western most point of Bathurst Island into the deep sea in the vicinity of the pipeline route.

Justice Charlesworth said for the Tiwi applicants to be successful, they needed to show there was a significant new environmental impact or risk.

The new information they relied upon is an expert report of a geoscientist, who engaged in a cultural mapping exercise with Tiwi Islanders.

“I have drawn conclusions about the lack of integrity in some aspects of the cultural mapping exercise, which undermined my confidence in the whole of it,” Justice Charlesworth said.

Santos issued a statement welcoming the decision and said it would now continue pipelaying activity “south of the kilometre 86 (KP86) point along the Barossa Gas Export Pipeline”.

– With AAP

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