The Science Schools Foundation, which runs the Santos Science Experience, have dropped the oil and gas giant as its main sponsor. Organisers of the nationwide schools science roadshow told the Guardian Australia that its board has decided not to renew Santos as its naming rights sponsor for next year. The foundation is now searching for a new sponsor to take over from 1st January 2023. 

In September, Macquarie University also ditched Santos branding and support for a school science roadshow. This followed criticism from senior Australian climate scientist Professor Lesley Hughes that sponsorship from a fossil fuel company was inappropriate. A few weeks prior, Darwin Festival also dropped Santos’ sponsorship to cut ties with the polluting oil and gas giant, ending a 20-year partnership.

Debunking Santos’ gas spin

Criticism of Santos’ track record on climate and suitability for school sponsorship is well justified. The Science Experience sponsor information page quotes: “A proudly Australian company, Santos is a leading supplier of natural gas, a fuel for the future providing cleaner energy to improve the lives of people in Australia and Asia.” 

However, such statements have been debunked extensively in the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) report “Facts Over Fiction: Debunking Gas Industry Spin“. Scientists and organisations agree that gas is in no way a climate solution. The reality is gas is one of the leading drivers of the climate crisis, including causing deadly heatwaves, extreme weather disasters and food and water insecurity. Along with the impact of climate change, the world’s reliance on volatile natural gas has contributed to this year’s global multi-crises affecting economies, energy security and the cost of living around the world. 

Organisations severing ties to fossil fuel companies reflects the public sentiment that is rapidly turning against them. The Australian Institute’s Climate of the Nation 2022 report reveals a record number of Australians are now “very concerned” about climate change as the impacts of burning fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on people’s lives. Most Australians also do not want any new gas, coal or oil projects approved, found the report.

Backlash, greenwashing and legal challenges

As one of Australia’s most polluting oil and gas companies, Santos is facing a number of legal challenges for its claims and operations. In 2021, the ACCR sued Santos for engaging in “misleading or deceptive” conduct relating to its “clean energy” claims and plans for net zero. This was the world’s first court case challenging a company’s net zero emissions target. “Santos has perfected the art of greenwashing, and shareholders continue to be misled by Santos’ clean energy claims”, said Dan Gocher, Director of Climate and Environment at ACCR, commenting on the court proceeding. 

In August 2022, following information provided by Santos in the litigation discovery process, ACCR filed significant new and more detailed allegations against Santos.

In September 2022, a court also revoked Santos’ permit to drill for gas in the Timor Sea for its Barossa gas project. Tiwi Traditional Owners filed the complaint that it did not consult with them on the “carbon bomb” project, which they claimed threatened their way of life. The court agreed that Santos failed to consult First Nations peoples, as required by law. “Gas companies: take notice… Oil and gas multinationals like Santos are not above the rules”, said Jason Fowler, Energy Campaigner at the Environment Centre NT. 

The IEEFA has also criticised Santos’ Barossa gas project, reporting the company is overstating the effectiveness of carbon capture and storage to mitigate the project’s vast climate impact. “Using unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the remaining portion of the emissions would still make the Barossa project the ‘dirtiest’ in Australia and possibly in the world”, its analysis found.