A claim that Santos has not properly consulted Indigenous people on a remote island 250 kilometres from Darwin threatens to further derail its key Barossa gas export project where approval issues have already put drilling on hold for a year.
Isabelle Lami Lami, a traditional owner in Minjilang, also known as Croker Island, said Santos did not consult her or her community as it sought to recover from a 2022 Federal Court rejection of an approval for offshore drilling due to the company not properly consulting with Tiwi Islanders 110 kilometres to the west.
After the full Federal Court rejected Santos’ appeal in December 2022 offshore regulator NOPSEMA advised all oil and gas companies to agree to a consultation process with people affected by their proposals.
Lami Lami said Santos was told to wait until the community had met to discuss how to go about the consultation. “But Santos came to the community against our wishes, they just rocked up on a helicopter,” she said.
“Santos has to consult with us in the way that is culturally appropriate for us,” Lami Lami added.
Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) lawyer Alina Leiken representing Lami Lami and one other Minjilang person said Santos knowingly submitted an incomplete plan that should not be accepted.
The Adelaide-based company has been paying to keep an expensive drilling rig on standby near Darwin for almost a year while it lost its Federal Court appeal, launched an extensive round of new consultation on the Tiwi Islands, and then resubmitted a revised plan to the regulator in July.
A possible failure to perform a similar consultation on Croker Island threatens Santos’ plan to resume drilling by the end of the year to keep its $5.6 billion project on track for first production in the first half of 2025.
A spokeswoman for Santos, that has been informed by letter of Lami Lami’s concerns, said company representatives visited the island in July and August after receiving the required travel permits.
“Members of the Croker Island community met with Santos representatives willingly,” she said.
“To our knowledge, the EDO represents two individuals of about 300 people on Croker Island.”
Lami Lami said sacred sites in the Minjilang people’s sea country could be destroyed or impacted by the drilling.
“We also have our rainbow serpent, who protects us and our community – she cannot be disrupted or disturbed or harmed in any way,” she said. “We live off the sea.”
Regulator NOPSEMA’s spokesman said it could not provide an expected time to approve or reject the revised Barossa drilling plan due to “the complexity and sensitivity of this assessment.”
He said Santos could continue consultations while its plan was assessed.
Santos reports its half-yearly results on Wednesday, when investors are likely to seek more clarity on Barossa’s schedule. Pipeline installation at the project is also on hold over separate Indigenous heritage issues.
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Source: Thanks smh.com