Santos has concluded its appeal against a landmark Federal Court ruling that in September put the brakes on its US$3.6 billion (A$5.44 billion) Barossa gas field development offshore Australia.

Two months ago, work on the multi-billion dollar Barossa project was halted and Santos was forced to suspend the development drilling campaign after a judge ruled that key approvals were invalid as the offshore regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema), had failed to assess whether the company had consulted with all "relevant parties", which he said should have included the Munupi clan of the Tiwi Islands.

Santos earlier said that consultation with Tiwi traditional owners started in 2016 and included contacting the Tiwi Land Council about the project. However, environmental lawyers have argued that communication with the land council about the pipeline was limited to a couple of emails that went unanswered.

Justice Debra Mortimer, one of three Federal Court justices presiding over Santos’ appeal, questioned the operator's argument that it was "unworkable" to try to consult a specific clan of traditional owners over its plans to drill at Barossa, reported ABC News.

She challenged Santos’ argument that it did not have to consult with the Munupi clan over its plans. The project to exploit the Barossa gas field, located 300 kilometres north of Darwin, is one of the largest Australian oil and gas investments in nearly a decade.

A judgement date for Santos’ appeal, which was held last week in Melbourne, has not yet been set. The Australian operator cannot restart its Barossa development drilling campaign while the court deliberates its ruling.

Upstream has contacted Santos for comment on the potential impact on the project if the appeal is not successful, and the status of its contract with Valaris for the semi-submersible rig Valaris MS-1 that was drilling the second of six development wells at Barossa at the time of the September court judgement.

In its third quarter report, Santos said the Barossa project is 46% complete. Fabrication of the floating production, storage and offloading vessel; subsea hardware manufacture; planning for the gas pipeline and subsea campaigns are progressing as planned.

At the time of the September court ruling, the operator said that the development drilling campaign was “not on the critical path for the project and we have headroom in the project cost contingency”.

Vow to keep fighting

Speaking to the ABC outside the Federal Court in Melbourne, Munupi clan representative Antonia Burke said that "regardless of the outcome of this appeal, Tiwi people are going to keep fighting".

"There are absolutely no circumstances at all that the Munupi clan or Tiwi people will agree to any fossil fuel activities in deep sea country off the coastline of the Tiwi islands where we live," she said.

The Barossa project partners are operator Santos with a 50% interest, SK E&S of South Korea on 37.5% and Japan’s Jera with 12.5%.

Stay a step ahead with the Upstream News app
Read high quality news and insight on the oil and gas business and its energy transition on-the-go. The News app offers you more control over your Upstream reading experience than any other platform.