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 UCG 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 technology trial undertaken on mineral development licences granted under the Minerals Resources Act 1989. 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.

Linc Energy

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. In 2023, the law was changed so that in future, executive officers can be prosecuted where the act or omission which leads to environmental harm occurs while they are in office, even if they have left office by the time harm has crystallised.

The former Linc site was listed on the contaminated land register in 2019 which recognises that the site is heavily contaminated and requires ongoing monitoring and remediation.

Since July 2016, the site has been managed by the Department of Resources. View details of their monitoring and longer-term remediation plans.

As a result of a decision by the Queensland 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.

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 detected in the soil profile below two metres underground. An excavation caution zone was then put in place by the Department to notify landholders about the potential risks involved in excavating at depth.

In 2017 and 2018, further soil vapour testing was conducted. It showed a decline in hazardous soil vapour levels regionally which significantly reduced any risk. The excavation caution zone was removed by the Department in 2018.

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. Two reports on air testing in the area are available for download:

Groundwater monitoring

Groundwater monitoring has been undertaken by the Department of Environment and Science and the Department of Resources on the former Linc site and on the Kummerows Road reserve 650 metres west of the boundary of the former Linc site. Groundwater monitoring has also been undertaken on private landholder properties.

In 2017, the Department installed a groundwater monitoring network on the former Linc site.  This network of 11 groundwater monitoring bores is on the perimeter of the former Linc mineral development lease.

In 2020, the network was expanded to include two additional 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 installed 15 groundwater monitoring bores to assess any groundwater impacts and risks and monitor over time. These bores are not used for irrigation, or human or stock consumption.

Sampling from these monitoring bores has generally been occurring quarterly since their installation.

In July 2022, responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of these bores was transferred to the Department of Resources. A summary of the monitoring activities is provided below.

A comprehensive suite of contaminants and the results are available on the Queensland Open Data portal:

When reviewing these comprehensive results, the following terminology is used:

  • Sample type
    • Normal: samples taken from perforated zone (the area where water passes through) and are considered the most representative of water quality in the aquifer. LNAPL and DNAPL are not from this zone.
    • Field_D or field duplicate: a quality control process when two samples are taken to estimate the certainty of sampling and laboratory processes.
    • Interlab_D or interlab duplicate: a quality control process when samples are sent to the primary laboratory plus a secondary laboratory to confirm the primary laboratory’s results.
  • Field Sample Identification (Field ID)
    • Low flow or LOWFL: samples taken using a water pump lowered into the groundwater bore to pump water at low velocity to the surface for sampling.
    • Canister: samples taken using a downhole enclosed canister tool that is lowered into the bore and remotely opened and closed, then the samples are brought to the surface.
    • Air Lift: when compressed air is forced down the casing of the well, directly into the water column, forcing groundwater to the surface for sampling.
    • LNAPL or light non-aqueous phase liquid: samples collected from the top of the water column outside the perforated zone, taken to investigate the potential influence of wellhead maintenance (grease and pressure testing) and water stratification within each bore.
    • DNAPL or dense non-aqueous phase liquid: samples collected from the lowest section of the groundwater bore outside the perforated zone, taken to sample substances that may be in the form of tars and oils and/or represent UCG by-products
  • EQL or Estimated Quantitation Limit: the lowest concentration that can be reliably achieved by the laboratory during routine operations. A “<” result is below the limit of reporting.

The Department has implemented appropriate techniques to obtain groundwater samples from the perforated zones that are representative of the groundwater aquifer.

In July 2022, responsibility for the ongoing monitoring of these bores was transferred to the Department of Resources who will continue to monitor 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.

Further information

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.