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Santos confirms Cooper Basin pipeline explosion, as protesters converge on company AGM

ABC Business logo ABC Business 6/04/2023
Santos says it doesn't know how much gas was released from the explosion. (ABC News) © Provided by ABC Business Santos says it doesn't know how much gas was released from the explosion. (ABC News)

Oil and gas company Santos has confirmed a pipeline in South Australia exploded in January, as Aboriginal traditional owners walked out of a heated Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Adelaide.

The South Australian Department for Energy and Mining (DEM) said it was notified about the incident, which occurred at the Big Lake gas field in the Cooper Basin on January 25.

Resources website Energy News Bulletin described it as a "major explosion", citing anonymous Santos managers and on-site workers.

The pipeline runs to the Moomba processing facility 750 kilometres north-east of Adelaide.

Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher said the incident was immediately reported to the South Australian government.

"Unfortunately we do have incidents from time to time in our industry and we have a lot of old infrastructure," he said.

"We run our surveys and we have got survey programs on those pipelines.

"We're currently investigating the root cause of that and sometimes the metallurgical studies that you have to go through can take a little bit of time."

The company said it could not tell how much gas had been released from the pipeline, which has a capacity of 60 million standard cubic feet per day.

"In January, a stress-related failure of the Big Lake pipeline resulted in the release of natural gas," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"The operations team acted quickly to immediately stop the release and prevent further inflows to the pipeline.

"Repairs were completed in around a week, and an additional fortnight of testing and inspections ensured the integrity of the entire pipeline."

The DEM said Santos have until April 25 to submit a detailed report on the explosion.

"Under the Act, SANTOS is required to submit a report to the Department for Energy and Mining any relevant incident that occurs within three months of the occurrence," it said in a statement.

"A detailed investigation report into the root cause of the incident and all corrective actions is currently being compiled by Santos in accordance with the Regulatory requirements, this report will be reviewed by DEM as part of its own investigation."

Departmental correspondence shows there was another serious incident at Big Lake in 2020, but details of that were also not released.

SA Energy and Mining Minister Tom Koutsantonis defended the state government's decision not to notify the public of the most recent incident.

"We don't report every incident that occurs unless there was an impact," he said.

"There were no impacts, no injuries, there was no environmental damage done, there were no spillages, this is no different to any other incident — the difference here is the term explosion.

"The government was notified, the regulators were notified, the investigators were notified, that investigation is still underway … I'm satisfied that Santos did everything they were meant to do."

Indigenous groups felt disrespected at meeting

Meanwhile, a group of First Nations people — including Gomeroi people from New South Wales and Tiwi Islanders — travelled to Adelaide for the Santos AGM to voice concerns about some of the company's developments.

Extinction Rebellion protesters who were gathered outside the Adelaide Convention Centre cheered and applauded the groups as they entered the meeting.

The question section of the AGM was largely dominated by the Indigenous representatives, who expressed anger at many of Santos gas projects, including the Barossa gas field north-west of Darwin and the Narrabri project in western New South Wales.

At one point the executives were asked what price they "put on genocide", and members of the group told them: "You are not welcome on our land".

Tiwi Islander Antonia Burke asked the executives about the Barossa gas project.

"They didn't answer any of our questions today, at all," she said.

"They don't answer our questions in the consultations that they do with us one-on-one on the Tiwi Islands, they don't answer any of our questions through our legal team, and they don't answer any of our questions at their own AGM."

Ms Burke said it was disrespectful that microphones were turned off to avoid further questioning, while Indigenous representatives were still on their feet attempting to address the executives.

"It seems like a fluff fest of making their shareholders feel good about their money, that's what it felt like in there, they don't actually give you any answers at all," she said.

Emerging elder Deborah Briggs travelled from the Narrabri community in New South Wales to attend the AGM.

She was one of the people who walked out of the meeting in anger.

"We walked out simply because we didn't feel safe in there, we didn't feel respected, they are lying to their shareholders, they are lying to the Gomeroi people, to the wider population," Ms Briggs told the ABC.

"I got half of my question out, they cut the microphone off, they did that will all of the Gomeroi delegates.

"They also did that with the Tiwi Islanders that attended. We travelled a long way.

"We sat there and listened to the board members say they were respectful of us and yet they shut us down mid-question and literally none of us got a response to any of our questions, they said they'd take it on board."

Ms Briggs said she felt the level of security at the meeting was "pretty ridiculous", saying she and other Gomeroi people got searched multiple times and were followed by security.

"They followed us literally to the toilet, so it didn't feel comfortable at all," she said.

Barossa project to proceed despite safeguard mechanism changes

Ms Briggs said she wanted to attend the meeting to "plead, beg, ask, and demand" of the shareholders to drop their shares and stop supporting Santos and to advise the company that she would continue to occupy and try to protect the Pilliga native forest, where Santos has been given the green light to drill gas wells.

"I'm going to continue to invite the wider population as well as Gomeroi people to come and stand with me under Gomeroi law," she said.

"I've travelled all the way to advise the Santos board members who do not listen to Gomeroi people."

Chair of the Board of Directors at Santos, Keith Spence, said each person was limited to one question to ensure everyone got a say.

"There were a lot of questions on Gomeroi and a lot of questions on Barossa and the Tiwi Islands specifically … they had probably more opportunity to ask questions than probably anyone else in the room," he said.

"I would also like to say I'm actually grateful they were here, it's a lot of effort for them to actually make the journey. I respect their view, I respect their passion."

Mr Spence said there would be further consultations with traditional owners including on the Barossa gas project.

Santos Managing Director Kevin Gallagher said he was confident the $4.7 billion Barossa gas project could still go ahead, despite reforms to Labor's climate change policy in the form of a "safeguard mechanism" to reduce emissions.

He played down concerns raised by shareholders during the meeting about any financial impact on the project.

"As far as I'm concerned nothing has changed on Barossa at this point in time because all I know is legislation has been passed and what that would mean is, at this point in time, we would have to buy offsets to cover our reservoir emissions on startup," Mr Gallagher told reporters after the AGM.

"The process of how we would do that, where we would get them from, what would be available — unclear to us, and that's because the regulations that support the legislation have yet to be developed and so we'll be working with the government over the weeks ahead to get clarity on that.

"Our current view on our forecast and our budget for Barossa is that it can still come online in the first half of 2025, we believe that, we are working to that."

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