Santos gets permission to read more communication between Environmental Defenders Office and associates

Adrian Rauso
The Nightly
The oil and gas giant had applied for subpoenas in the Federal Court.
The oil and gas giant had applied for subpoenas in the Federal Court. Credit: AAP

Santos has secured a big legal win in its hunt to lift the lid on some of the Environmental Defenders Office’s mysterious backers that caused the development of its $6.7 billion Barossa gas project to be delayed.

The oil and gas giant had applied for subpoenas in the Federal Court to access correspondence between the Environmental Defenders Office and third parties to find out if other financial backers were footing the bill for the EDO’s legal attack.

Federal Court judge Natalie Charlesworth on Thursday granted Santos permission to issue a subpoena to the Environmental Defenders Office and two expert witnesses called by the EDO during a failed court bid to stop the 262km Barossa underwater pipeline installation off the coast of the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands.

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The two expert witnesses were UWA associate professor of climate geoscience Mick O’Leary and independent anthropological consultant Gareth Lewis.

The three subpoenaed parties will now need to dig up and hand over relevant pieces of communication by August 22.

In late April Santos received Justice Charlesworth’s blessing to subpoena three environmental groups — Jubilee Australia Research Centre, The Sunrise Project Australia, Environment Centre NT — and their correspondence with the EDO.

Santos wants to uncover who bankrolls the EDO, an organisation which also receives taxpayer funding, as the company looks to recoup costs from the ill-fated legal intervention last year and prevent further delays.

The Barossa opponents previously won a court order in November to prevent Santos laying the pipeline, which runs at least 7km offshore on the seabed of the Timor Sea.

A small group of traditional owners — who are represented by the taxpayer-funded Environmental Defenders Office — claimed the pipeline would intersect with the submerged ‘Crocodile Man’ songline and the underwater resting place of the rainbow serpent.

Justice Charlesworth threw out the EDO’s legal action in January after scolding Mr O’Leary — who prepared the cultural heritage map that much of the EDO’s argument rested on — a month prior.

“It’s extreme illogic and it shows, he (Mr O’Leary) used the word ‘artistic licence’,” she said at the time.

“My oh my, it’s the most unscientific proposition I’ve ever heard, I have to say, from an expert in a witness box, that he took this myth and said, ‘Oh, to make all of this make any scientific sense whatsoever, Crocodile Man is more foundational than the creation story and must have preceded it in time’.”

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