Hopeland environmental management
Underground coal gasification
Underground coal gasification (UCG) is a gasification (chemical reaction) process that converts solid coal into a gas (commonly known as ‘syngas’) via an underground combustion process. By-products from gasification are potentially harmful to human health and the environment and need to be managed carefully.
UCG (which is distinct from Coal Seam Gas (CSG) was conducted in Queensland pursuant to a pilot trial led by the Department of Resources. The key objective of the pilot was to allow the approved projects the opportunity to demonstrate the technical, environmental and commercial viability of the technology.
In 2014, one pilot participant, Linc Energy Ltd, was charged with wilfully causing serious environmental harm arising out of the operation of its site between 2007 and 2013. The charges followed the execution of search warrants and an investigation by the Department. Linc operated in the Hopeland area near Chinchilla.
In 2015, a Dalby Magistrate found that there was sufficient evidence to commit Linc to stand trial.
In 2016, Linc went into liquidation and a range of litigation ensued in relation to various actions taken by the Department.
In 2017, Linc was found guilty by a jury and fined $4.5 million by the Brisbane District Court, the highest fine imposed by an Australian court for environmental offending.
A number of former Linc executives were charged with failing to ensure Linc complied with the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
In 2019, the former Linc executives were committed to stand trial by the Brisbane Magistrates Court and an indictment charging those individuals was presented in 2019.
In 2021, the case against those former executives was discontinued by the prosecution. The catalyst for a reassessment of the case was a court ruling which in effect meant that the executives needed to be in office when the environmental harm could be proved to have crystallised. A Bill is before the Queensland Parliament which seeks to address this issue.
The former Linc Energy site is now listed on the contaminated land register in 2019 due primarily to the contaminant concentrations in the groundwater.
Since July 2016, the site has been managed by the Department of Resources and details. View details of their monitoring and longer-term remediation plans.
As a result of a decision by Government, underground coal gasification activities are no longer permitted in Queensland.
Hopeland environmental investigations and landholder engagement
Commencing in 2015, the Department engaged in a comprehensive program of testing both on and in the vicinity of Linc’s site as part of its broader investigation.
An extensive community engagement program was also undertaken to provide information about the work the Department was doing and share information with landholders.
That work included:
- conducting over 50 farm health assessments (involving the testing of soil, surface and groundwater, and air quality);
- collecting over 2,500 soil gas samples from regional vapour wells;
- installing 15 new groundwater monitoring bores;
- collecting over 180 groundwater samples on-site;
- collecting over 130 regional groundwater samples;
- gas testing from over 50 new and historic gas and groundwater monitoring locations on-site;
- over 2,000 regional engagement activities including landholder property visits, community meetings and correspondence.
Soil vapour testing
In 2015, gaseous contaminants including hydrogen were unexpectedly detected in the soil profile below two metres underground. An excavation caution zone was then put in place by the Department as a way of communicating to landholders about the potential risks involved in excavating at depth.
In 2017 and 2018, further soil vapour testing was conducted. The Department was advised that the findings of the testing showed a decline in hazardous soil levels regionally which significantly reduced any risk. The excavation caution zone was removed by the Department in 2018, but the following general advice remains in place:
There may be a flammability risk that exists during excavations that disturbs the soil at depths of greater than two metres. The degree of risk may be increased when activities involve the creation of confined spaces and where potential ignition sources are involved. Anyone engaged in such activities is advised to exercise caution and consider undertaking a site-specific risk assessment prior to carrying out those activities to identify measures to minimise the risk.
Risk minimisation measures to consider include:
- engaging an appropriately qualified person to advise on the potential risks involved in carrying out a given activity and measures that should be put in place to deal with those risks
- avoiding conducting works unaccompanied where such works involve excavation or disturbing the soil at depths greater than two metres
- monitoring gases during works, particularly at the point of disturbance and prior to introducing any potential ignition source or entering a confined space
- ventilating areas of disturbance and confined spaces to disperse and dilute gases
- removing or avoiding ignition sources completely from the immediate vicinity of the disturbance and establish a buffer zone around the works until the absence of unsafe gas concentrations are confirmed
- keeping flammable items and liquids well clear of the excavation/disturbed area
- consider using equipment that is certified flameproof, and
- assessing activities to ensure that the Workplace Health and Safety requirements are complied with.
The advice is cautionary only and not prohibitive.
Air quality investigation
Air quality in the Hopeland region was monitored during 2015–16 and did not find any evidence of subsoil gases leading to unsafe levels of air pollutants in the community. This suggests that any surface emissions of the soil gases that may be occurring are likely to be gradual and quickly diluted by surrounding air to very low levels. Two reports on air testing in the area are available for download:
- Air Quality Investigation Hopeland and Chinchilla March 2015 (PDF, 423KB)
- Air Quality Investigation Hopeland and Chinchilla December 2015 (PDF, 474KB)
Groundwater monitoring has been undertaken by the Department of Environment and Science and the Department of Resources on the former Linc Energy site and on the Kummerows Road reserve. Groundwater monitoring has also been undertaken on private landholder properties.
The ongoing assessment of groundwater conditions is a key component of the environmental management process.
In 2017, the Department installed a groundwater monitoring network on the former Linc site.
In 2020, the network was expanded to include two bores on the former Linc site and two bores on the Kummerows Road reserve. Kummerows Road is a narrow road reserve between 20 and 30 metres wide and the bores are approximately 650 metres west of the boundary of the former Linc site.
The department has installed a total of 15 monitoring bores which enables an understanding of any groundwater impacts and risks. Sampling from these monitoring bores has generally been occurring quarterly since their installation.
View the results for key contaminants (benzene and total cyanide) for the groundwater monitoring bores installed by the department. These contaminants are likely to be associated with UCG activities.
In 2020 and 2021 DES undertook groundwater monitoring of a comprehensive suite of contaminants and the results are included here on open data:
The department will continue to provide further information and results to this website. Results will also continue to be provided to adjacent landholders.
Groundwater at the present time is flowing back to the Linc site. Monitoring will continue to ensure that any risks are identified.
In July 2022 responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of these bores was transferred to the Department of Resources who will continue to undertake monitoring of these bores.
CSG operations and compliance
Established or developing coal seam gas (CSG) activities within proximity of the former Linc site are required to undertake groundwater monitoring and other environmental compliance activities as a requirement of their environmental authority (EA) conditions.
If a CSG operator wishes to undertake or expand their activities in the Hopeland region, they must submit an application to the department which will be rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis.
To find out more information about CSG operations within the Hopeland region including current EA amendments that are being assessed and are open for public submission, visit the department’s environmental authority register.
A part of the department’s ongoing environmental management of the site, regular communication and engagement activities are undertaken with landholders immediately adjacent to the site about ongoing groundwater monitoring programs and general management of the site.
For further information about environmental monitoring in the Hopeland region please contact the department using the online enquiry form, or phone the Pollution Hotline on 1300 130 372.
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