Santos said on Thursday an Australian court had granted an interim injunction preventing it from starting work on laying undersea pipelines on its $3.6 billion Barossa gas project off northern Australia.
The ruling comes after Simon Munkara, a traditional land owner from the Tiwi Islands, lodged proceedings with the Federal Court of Australia to halt the pipeline works until its impact and risk to underwater cultural heritage were properly assessed.
Law firm Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) represented Munkara and other indigenous elders from the Tiwi Islands who had urged the government to make an urgent declaration to block the pipeline construction.
The pipeline would cause significant damage to ancient burial grounds, aboriginal art and other sacred ancestral sites, Munkara said, according to a statement from EDO.
The court will sit on Nov. 13 to determine whether to extend the injunction until the final hearing, which will be held on an expedited basis.
Santos, which aims to start producing gas from Barossa in the first half of 2025, said its guidance on cost and schedule for the project remained unchanged. It will continue to defend the court proceedings.
Australia's offshore regulator ordered Santos in January to evaluate the environmental risks to underwater indigenous cultural heritage before starting pipeline work though it did not prohibit the start of work.
Santos has said, citing an independent expert, that there were no specific underwater cultural heritage sites along the planned route of the pipeline.
A Santos ship was hours away from beginning work on the pipeline, lawyers for Munkara told the court. Santos said the vessel will remain at its current location but no pipeline works will be conducted during the interim injunction.
The court's ruling poses another hurdle for the project and a win for Indigenous groups opposing fossil fuel developments, who have been raising concerns it could damage the environment and their cultural heritage.
In September, the federal court halted approval for Woodside to conduct seismic blasting under the seabed for its $12 billion Scarborough gas project after a legal challenge by an Indigenous woman.
(Reuters - Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Ayushman Ojha in Bengaluru; Editing by Mrigank Dhaniwala, Rashmi Aich and Jacqueline Wong)
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