Santos announced that the Federal Court of Australia has issued an interim injunction, temporarily halting the commencement of undersea pipeline installation on its $3.6bn Barossa gas project situated off the coast of Australia’s Northern Territory.

The temporary injunction prohibits the Australian energy firm from initiating the construction of the Barossa Gas Export Pipeline (GEP) until 13 November 2023.

The court’s decision has come after the filing of civil enforcement proceedings earlier this week by Jikilaruwu man Simon Munkara against Santos regarding the gas export pipeline.

Munkara wants the company to resubmit the environment plan (EP) which was previously accepted by the regulating body National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) in March 2020.

He claims that the installation of the Barossa Gas Export Pipeline will have adverse effects on the submerged Tiwi cultural heritage and will potentially introducing a new environmental hazard.

Munkara has petitioned the court for an immediate restraining order to halt Santos’ initial pipeline installation efforts and a broader injunction that suspends any work until Santos revises its environmental plan. This revision is said to be aimed at ensuring a thorough assessment of the pipeline’s impact and its risk to underwater cultural heritage.

The court will reconvene on 13 November 2023, to decide whether to prolong the restraining order until the final hearing, which is scheduled to proceed expeditiously.

Santos said that it has adhered to a General Direction issued by NOPSEMA in January 2023 concerning the effects on underwater cultural heritage sites of significance to Indigenous communities with spiritual and cultural ties.

The company stated: “An independent expert anthropologist concluded there were no such underwater cultural heritage places, following interviews with around 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.”

Furthermore, the company said that it revised the environmental plan to incorporate the suggestions made by an independent expert anthropologist. This adjustment was made in accordance with the approved Management of Change process, which is a component of the GEP EP, said the company.

According to Santos, the pipelay vessel will remain stationed in Darwin, and no pipeline installation work associated with the gas export pipeline will occur during the duration of the temporary injunction.

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) is representing Munkara in the case.

EDO special counsel Alina Leikin said: “We are very relieved. Santos’ crews were hours away from beginning work on this pipeline which poses significant risks and impacts to our client’s Sea Country.

“We now have a chance to put forward our client’s reasons why Santos’ Environment Plan is not fit for purpose and must be revised and resubmitted.”