Santos sets up $100m ‘Aboriginal future fund’ for Barossa gas

“It’s no secret that I don’t think the balance is right [in Australia] given that we were delayed for a year or so after we had project approval,” he said, adding he was encouraged by the move of Resources Minister Madeleine King to review regulations around consultation for offshore gas projects.

The news of the fund comes little more than two weeks after the Federal Court threw out a legal challenge from three Tiwi Islanders, represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, who argued the construction of the pipeline would damage their cultural heritage.

That ruling, for which the two-week window for appeal expired on January 29, gave Santos certainty of being able to proceed with the project. However, the oil and gas producer was last week forced to raise the budget by as much as $US300 million ($456 million) and put back the start-up date by about three months from the first half of 2025.

Map of the Barossa gas project in the Timor Sea. 

The project, which is partly owned by Korean and Japanese companies, is now expected to cost between $US4.5 billion and $US4.6 billion, still less than some analysts had feared, given the delay to drilling that originally got under way in 2022.

Investments by the Barossa Aboriginal Future Fund – Santos has been in discussion with Tiwi Islanders over the fund for several months – will aim to improve community infrastructure, health, education and cultural programs, as well as set up pathways to skilled and well-paying jobs, Santos said.

How it will be calculated and governed has yet to be worked out with the communities involved, which include East Arnhem, West Arnhem, Darwin-Daly-Wagait, and Victoria River District regions, as well as the Tiwi Islands.

Mr Gallagher underscored the importance of projects such as Barossa and the revamp of the Darwin LNG plant that will process the gas to help support local Aboriginal communities.

“The Barossa gas and DLNG life extension projects are already training and employing Aboriginal Territorians, and we plan to do much more,” he said, pointing to a new jobs program providing scaffolding and mechanical maintenance services for Darwin LNG.

“Sharing the benefits of projects like Barossa is a meaningful step we can take towards closing the gap.”

Mr Gallagher said the intention was to build a long-term relationship with the Tiwi community.

Santos, which has yet to say whether it will pursue legal costs over the Barossa pipeline challenge, still has to secure approval for the environment plan for the operations part of the project.

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