Indigenous Australians fail bid to block major gas project

Representational Image of gas pipeline
Reuters file photo

A group of Indigenous Australians lost a courtroom battle on Monday to block a major gas pipeline which could soon resume construction off the country's northern coast.

Fuel producer Santos -- one of Australia's largest energy companies -- is planning to lay an underwater pipeline to pump gas from offshore wells to the mainland.

Tiwi Islands traditional owner Simon Munkara last year secured a temporary injunction halting the project, arguing Santos had not considered how it might damage cherished heritage areas.

But Australia's Federal Court on Monday ruled in favour of Santos, the company told the Australian stock exchange, clearing a major hurdle for construction to resume.

Santos has previously said it respected "the cultural heritage of the Tiwi people" while insisting there were no significant risks attached to the 260-kilometre (160-mile) pipeline.

The pipeline runs close to the Tiwi Islands, a sparsely populated archipelago about 80 kilometres (50 miles) off the coast of Darwin in northern Australia.

Indigenous Australians make up about 90 per cent of the 2,000-strong population on the islands, which are known for their distinctive art, language, and love of Australian rules football.

The Aus$5 billion (US$3.2 billion) Barossa Gas Project has been plagued by delays, as opponents raise concerns about its contribution to climate change, ecological footprint, and impact on areas of cultural significance.

Gas from the offshore Barossa field would be pumped back to Darwin, where it would be processed and loaded onto tankers for export to Japan and South Korea.

The conservation of Aboriginal sites has been under intense scrutiny in Australia after mining company Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters in 2020.