Oil and gas company Santos organised and paid for a specially arranged chartered flight for the federal resources and water minister, Keith Pitt, to attend a media event organised by the gas company in Darwin, updated parliamentary disclosures have revealed.
Santos sponsored the chartered flight for Pitt – flying the resources minister from Canberra to Darwin, via Adelaide, in late March – so that Pitt could attend the announcement of Santos’ final investment decision for the $5 billion Barossa LNG project and the Darwin LNG facility.
Pitt disclosed the flight details in an update to the minister’s register of interests, required to be maintained by all parliamentarians.
The disclosure, made in late August, shows a new entry for the resources minister for “sponsored travel – flight Canberra to Darwin via Adelaide from Santos Limited”.
It shows that Pitt allowed the gas company to cover the costs of his official travel, with Pitt releasing a statement and filling several media commitments as the resources minister during the trip. The cost of a chartered flight between Canberra, Adelaide and Darwin is likely to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
In response to questions from RenewEconomy, a spokesperson for Pitt said the resources minister had accepted the flights from Santos to attend the announcement due to a lack of availability of suitable commercial flights.
“Given time constraints and the unavailability of commercial flights to fit the Minister’s schedule, he accepted an invitation from Santos to fly to Darwin for a significant announcement related to his resources portfolio on March 30,” a spokesperson for Pitt said.
“The final investment decision on a $5 billion gas and condensate project off the NT coast will create hundreds of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic activity. The event was also attended by NT Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison.”
The Santos media event occurred at the end of March, but details of the sponsored flights have only recently been disclosed on the interests register.
Pitt’s office confirmed that while in Darwin, the resources minister attended a function organised by the Energy Club, a Northern Territory group that primarily consists of companies engaged in the territory’s gas industry. The function was billed as an industry dinner hosted by the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group.
“The Minister also attended an Energy Club function to meet with local resources sector stakeholders. He conducted a number of media interviews and met with other stakeholders related to his Northern Australia portfolio at the time before returning on a commercial flight,” the spokesperson for Pitt told RenewEconomy.
The details of oil and gas Santos paying to fly Pitt to Darwin for a media event follows revelations that federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor benefitted from a similarly sponsored chartered flight, paid for by gas exploration company Empire Energy.
Taylor took the flight in October last year along with several senior Liberal party figures, fossil fuel industry representatives and Taylor’s chief fundraiser – to inspect its operations in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin.
A representative of the NT Energy Club also joined the Empire Energy sponsored trip to the Beetaloo Basin.
Empire Energy recently told a senate inquiry that they had scheduled the trip to coincide with a Liberal Party fundraiser, held in Darwin, that representatives of the gas company paid $4,500 to attend.
Just a few months later, Empire Energy secured $21 million in grants from the federal government to fund the drilling of three new gas wells in the Beetaloo Basin.
Empire Energy is the first and only recipient of grant funding under the $50 million Beetaloo Cooperative Drilling Program, which was created shortly after Taylor’s trip to the Empire Energy site.
Santos has been the beneficiary of federal government funding for other gas developments – being provided under the guise of its ‘gas led recovery’ – including a $15 million grant from the Carbon Capture Use and Storage Development Fund established by the Morrison government for the Moomba carbon capture and storage project.
This week, Santos topped an assessment by transparency advocacy group InfluenceMap, which found the oil and gas company had the highest rate of engagements with governments on energy and climate policy – including advocating for the ongoing use of fossil fuels.