Linc liq­uida­tors evade gas site clean-up costs

Chinchilla News - - NEWS - Amani Vassiliou Amani.Vassiliou@chin­chillanews.com.au

EAR­LIER this month, the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment lost a quest to make Linc En­ergy liq­uida­tors li­able for the clean-up costs of its no­to­ri­ous Chinchilla site.

The High Court of Aus­tralia’s re­fusal of the State Gov­ern­ment ap­peal is the lat­est drama to un­furl in the Linc en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter fall­out.

Through the years, the liq­ui­dated en­ergy com­pany has been in­volved in a num­ber of le­gal mat­ters re­lat­ing to its un­der­ground coal gasi­fi­ca­tion (UCG) plant 20km south­west of Chinchilla.

UCG ex­tracts gas from coal seams that are too deep to mine by burn­ing the coal un­der­ground and si­phon­ing the gas from the wells.

The syn­gas, or syn­thetic gas, pro­duced by the process con­tains a mix­ture of hy­dro­car­bon gases, hy­dro­gen and car­bon monox­ide.

Court doc­u­ments show between the es­tab­lish­ment of the pi­lot plant in 1999 and its de­com­mis­sion­ing in 2013, five gasifers were con­ducted.

Re­ports sug­gest the sec­ond gasifer, in 2007, frac­tured the rock be­neath the land, re­leas­ing chem­i­cals into the air, soil and ground­wa­ter.

From 2007, the plant was sub­ject to com­plaints from staff and land­hold­ers rang­ing from gas leaks caus­ing ill­ness to see­ing bub­bling ground­wa­ter around the site.

Af­ter a nine-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the State Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage Pro­tec­tion charged Linc on March 11, 2016, with five counts of wil­fully and un­law­fully caus­ing se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal harm.

Ear­lier this year, Linc, in liq­ui­da­tion, was found guilty and fined $4.5 mil­lion.

Prior to Linc en­ter­ing liq­ui­da­tion, it was is­sued an en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion or­der oblig­ing it to com­ply with the con­di­tions of its en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­ity, specif­i­cally to min­imise and pre­vent harm to the en­vi­ron­ment.

Linc liq­uida­tors moved to dis­claim the Chinchilla land, li­cences and en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­ity on June 30, 2016, seek­ing court con­fir­ma­tion these ac­tions would ren­der the com­pany no longer com­pelled to com­ply with the is­sued en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion or­der.

At first, Jus­tice Jack­son ruled liq­uida­tors could not let Linc ig­nore its en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion or­der, but on March 9, 2018, the Queens­land Court of Ap­peal over­turned that de­ci­sion.

The ap­peal court said once liq­uida­tors “dis­claimed” the land, at­tached li­a­bil­i­ties ended, in­clud­ing li­a­bil­i­ties un­der the EPO.

The Queens­land At­tor­ney-Gen­eral then made an un­suc­cess­ful ap­peal to the High Court, re­sult­ing in the lat­est de­ci­sion.

■ In this pa­per’s edi­tion of Su­rat Basin News, lawyers, land­hold­ers, Lock the Gate and the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fend­ers Of­fice re­spond.

PHOTO: FILE

LINC EN­ERGY: Court doc­u­ments show the cor­po­ra­tion estab­lished its site 20km south­west of Chinchilla in 1999.

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