The Australian government has commenced review of indigenous group’s emergency application filed to block the pipeline construction for Santos’ $3.6bn (A$5.7bn) Barossa gas project off northern Australia.
The application has been filed under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act to the Australian Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek.
The group is seeking a special declaration from the minister to prevent ‘serious and immediate harm to significant underwater cultural sites’ in the Timor Sea, where Barossa Gas Project is planned to be developed.
A press statement from the non-profit, non-government entity, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) reads: “The Santos has announced that it intends to begin work on the pipeline as soon as this Wednesday, despite being aware of Tiwi concerns that it will traverse an area of significant underwater cultural heritage.”
Plibersek has been urged by six indigenous elders on the Tiwi Islands to issue a declaration safeguarding their heritage, reported Reuters.
The indigenous group claim that their heritage is immediately in danger of being desecrated by the development of the planned Barossa pipeline.
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A spokesperson for the environment department was quoted by the news agency as saying in an e-mail: “Applications are considered in order of urgency and have different assessment requirements.
“The department is considering the short-term emergency application.”
In a recently issued quarterly update, Santos said an independent expert determined presence of no specific underwater cultural heritage places along the proposed Barossa pipeline route.
However, according to EDO, the pipeline route will cross a sea floor area where Tiwi people believe it could cause ‘significant harm to ancient Tiwi burial grounds, songlines and other sacred ancestral sites’.
Santos aims to commission the Barossa field project in the first half of 2025.
EDO Special Counsel Alina Leikin said: “Tiwi elders have sought emergency protection for an area that they consider holds cultural significance and which they fear is under serious and immediate threat.
“They have asked the Minister to make a special declaration under cultural heritage laws, to protect their cultural heritage. This is a step our clients take very seriously, but given the importance of the cultural heritage at risk, it is a step they feel they must take to protect and preserve their precious cultural heritage.”