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The Federal Court of Australia has granted an interim injunction preventing oil and gas company Santos from starting work on its $3.6bn (A$5.6bn) Barossa gas project off the coast of northern Australia.

The decision comes after Simon Munkara, a traditional land owner from the Tiwi Islands, filed for a suspension to the pipeline project until its risk to underwater cultural heritage sites is properly assessed, Santos said in a press update.

The injunction grants a suspension on the commencement of the project until 13 November. Munkara argued that the laying of the pipelines will impact a submerged Tiwi cultural heritage site and create new environmental risks.

Law firm Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is representing Munkara along with other indigenous elders from the Tiwi Islands, who have urged Australia’s Government to make an urgent declaration to block the project.

Munkara said that constructing the pipelines would cause significant damage to ancient burial grounds, aboriginal art and other sacred sites. “We are serious about protecting our Country. That is our obligation. I’m doing this for my kids, so that our culture can be passed on to future generations,” he said in an EDO statement.

Santos insists it has complied with regulations. It said that an independent expert anthropologist concluded there were no such underwater cultural heritage places, following interviews with approximately 170 Tiwi people and “extensive archaeological and anthropological literature and studies”. These studies included consideration of “independent expert archaeological, geological and sedimentological assessment of the pipeline route,” the company added.

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The Court will sit again on 13 November 2023 to determine whether to extend the injunction until the final hearing, which will be held on an expedited basis.

The decision is one of several legal victories for aboriginal protestors looking to halt the activities of oil and gas companies in recent months. At the end of September, approval for oil and gas major Woodside Energy’s plans to undertake seismic blasting in a whale habitat off the cost of Western Australia was thrown out after traditional custodian Raelene Cooper argued she had not been properly consulted when environmental approval had been granted.