Traditional owners from the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands have initiated federal court action against Santos, seeking to stop the development of the $3.6bn Barossa gas project offshore northern Australia.

In the lawsuit filed with the Australian Federal Court, the traditional landowners from the Tiwi Islands claim that the company had not consulted them about the drilling work related to the project.

The group is looking to block the drilling approval authorised by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for the Barossa project.

Tiwi Traditional owner Dennis Tipakalippa, one of the plaintiffs in the case, was cited by Reuters as saying: “It’s our land that’s closest to the drilling site. We are the ones who are going to be affected.”

Referring to its approval of the project, NOPSEMA said that “consultation has taken place with relevant persons as required”, including with community-based bodies such as the Northern Land Council and Tiwi Land Council.

The Barossa development project includes a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, subsea production wells, and supporting subsea infrastructure.

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The project will also involve the construction of nearly 260km of pipeline to the west of the Tiwi Islands. This pipeline will connect offshore gas facilities to an existing pipeline, which runs to Darwin in the Northern Territory.

The traditional owners contend that the drilling work will threaten their culture, way of life, and food sources. It would also affect the breeding patterns and nesting grounds of dugongs, turtles, and whales, reported Reuters.

The Traditional Owners lawyers said that NOPSEMA’s decision related to the Barossa project is invalid as Santos failed to consult with people who could be potentially impacted by the drilling, as per the law.

South Korea-based SK E&S owns a minority stake in the Barossa project, which is scheduled to start production in the first half of 2025.

Last month, the Export-Import Bank of Korea and Korea Trade Insurance faced rejection by the South Korean court for their application to provide loans for the Barossa project’s pipeline.