Updated April 09, 2018 14:17:34
Gas company Linc Energy has been found guilty of causing serious environmental harm at its underground coal gasification (UCG) plant on Queensland’s western Darling Downs.
Linc Energy was charged with five counts of wilfully and unlawfully causing environmental harm between 2007 and 2013 at Chinchilla.
The corporation pleaded not guilty to the offences at the beginning of the 10-week trial in the District Court in Brisbane.
Linc Energy did not defend itself in court because it is in liquidation, so no-one was in the dock or at the bar table representing the defence.
During the trial, the prosecution said Linc Energy was aware it was causing serious damage but allowed operations to continue because it was putting commercial interests above environmental obligations.
The company mismanaged the underground burning of coal seams at the plant, causing the release of contaminants into the soil, air and water.
Linc injected air into underground combustion chambers at pressures that were too high, causing the rock surrounding the coal seam to fracture and allowing the escape of toxic gases.
Former employees gave evidence about how they witnessed bubbling around the gasifier during heavy rain.
A witness statement by former gas operator Timothy Ford, which he prepared in 2015 before his death, was tendered as evidence.
He said the gas burnt his eyes and nose and he would need to leave the plant after work to get fresh air because it made him feel sick.
In 2015, the Queensland Government imposed an “excavation exclusion zone” on more than 300 square kilometres around the Linc facility where landholders were banned from digging any hole deeper than 2 metres.
The zone was lifted at the beginning of this year.
Linc Energy will be sentenced on May 11. The company is facing maximum penalties of up to $9 million in fines.
Hopeland cattle grazierToby Trebilco said he first heard of issues of contamination in 2014.
Mr Trebilco said he had his property tested a number of times by Queensland Environment Department officers during the investigation, and he claimed no contamination was ever found in his bores or dams.
“I’ve never seen anything like it — to see what they went through to try and find contamination,” he said.
“Perfect, underground water is perfect — our bores have been tested and tested and tested — there was nothing we could point to, not one thing.”
Mr Trebilco was compensated by Linc Energy for wells placed on his property at the time.
He said he believed one day the site would be cattle grazing land again, and did not think it was likely that UCG would ever have a place in Queensland in the future.
He said the Hopeland district was a very beautiful tight-knit community and despite their differences, life would go on.
“We’ll move on from that … we’ll move on,” he said.
Chinchilla resident Shay Dougall said she had been living 10 kilometres from the site at the time and did not believe the industry was handled properly by the State Government from the beginning.
“Regardless of the size of that damage … even if that damage is able to be contained conveniently to a boundary fence, it is the implications that goes along with that that shows our Government is incapable of managing that type of industry,” Ms Dougall said.
Topics:courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, oil-and-gas, industry, company-news, business-economics-and-finance, land-management, environmental-management, environment, environmental-impact, hopeland-4413, qld, brisbane-4000, australia, chinchilla-4413, bundaberg-4670, toowoomba-4350
First posted April 09, 2018 12:01:42