Linc liquidators evade gas site clean-up costs
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.
LINC ENERGY: Court documents show the corporation established its site 20km southwest of Chinchilla in 1999.