A court appeal against a landmark legal victory by traditional owners halting drilling at a massive Northern Territory gas project is likely to be heard next month.
The Federal Court on Monday granted the expedited hearing after the same court last month found the offshore gas regulator shouldn’t have approved environmental plans to drill in the Barossa gas field, 265 kilometres north-west of Darwin.
“I read the affidavits and I understand why,” Chief Justice James Allsop said of the request to hear the appeal quickly during the online hearing from Perth.
The appeal is expected to be heard over two days in November in front of a full bench of the court at a date to be fixed.
Tiwi Islander Dennis Tipakalippa successfully challenged the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority’s approval of Santos’ plans in September.
The Munupi Elder said he was not adequately consulted over the plan for eight gas wells about 150 kilometres north of his home at Pitjamirra on Melville Island.
Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg agreed, ruling the authority shouldn’t have been lawfully satisfied the project’s drilling plan met the legal criteria.
He ordered for the regulator’s approval to be set aside, with a stop on drilling amid the court action extended to October 6.
Santos, Australia’s second-largest independent gas producer, had told the court it had all necessary approvals to drill eight wells in the gas field following consultation with stakeholders.
The $US3.6 billion offshore natural gas development was expected to create up to 600 jobs and will pipe gas 280 kilometres to the Darwin LNG facility, with the first production expected in 2025.
The drilling, which started in July, was happening in waters between 204 and 376 metres deep about 33 kilometres from the Oceanic Shoals Australian Marine Park.
The company has previously said the project, which was 43 per cent complete and on schedule before the September court decision, is one of the world’s lowest-cost new LNG supply projects and it will give Santos and Darwin LNG a competitive advantage in the tightening global market.
The company purchased the project in 2020 from US oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips, which activists have previously alleged sent just two emails and made one unanswered phone call to the Tiwi Land Council during the consultation period for a drilling plan.
However, during the hearing in front of Justice Bromberg, Mr Tipakalippa was forced to agree with Santos lawyer Stephen Free SC that he had attended two Tiwi Island Land Council meetings where representatives from ConocoPhillips provided updates about the project.
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority accepted the project’s environmental plan and approved the drilling activities in March, saying it was satisfied the project had complied with the regulations.
The two-day appeal is likely to be heard on November 10 and 11 or November 15 and 16.
The Tiwi Islands are 85 kilometres north of Darwin.
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