The Queensland Government inherited responsibility for the management of Linc Energy’s (Linc) underground coal gasification site in Hopeland after Linc entered liquidation, and took immediate action to secure the facility. The Department of Environment and Science (DES) formally engaged contractors with expertise in the management of petroleum facilities to provide care and maintenance of the site.
The Department of Natural Resources and Mines and Energy (DNRME) now has responsibility for the site. Queries in relation to the site can be directed to DNRME on 13 QGOV (13 74 68).
DES remains actively involved in the environmental management of the site.
DES is undertaking environmental management actions in relation to the former Linc site. A major aspect to this work involves the expansion and maintenance of the groundwater monitoring network on the site. The ongoing assessment of groundwater conditions is a key component of the environmental management process.
DES’ expanded groundwater monitoring network surrounds the perimeter of the former Linc site. The new and existing networks are scheduled for routine monitoring as part of the environmental management process.
The perimeter groundwater monitoring network was completed in April 2018 and sampling from this and other existing networks is ongoing.
This work is largely funded by Linc’s financial assurance, which DES secured from the company’s liquidators in late 2016.
Minimising clean-up costs
DES has used enforcement tools under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EP Act) in relation to the environmental management of the Linc site. DES is currently doing everything in its power to minimise costs to the taxpayer through various compliance actions.
Environmental Protection Order directed to a related person of Linc
DES used the ‘chain of responsibility’ amendments to the EP Act to issue an EPO to a ‘related person’ of Linc. The EPO requires the recipient to take steps to decommission most of the site’s dams and provide a bank guarantee of $5.5 million to secure compliance with the order.
The recipient of the EPO has appealed to the Planning and Environment Court and that litigation is ongoing.
The recipient of the EPO also applied for an order that the appeal be allowed and the EPO be set aside on the basis that DES denied him procedural fairness. The Planning and Environment Court dismissed that application. The recipient of the EPO appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal. That appeal was heard in March 2017 and judgment in favour of DES was delivered in August 2017. Subject to any further appeal, this decision confirms that the recipient was not denied procedural fairness and that DES’ interpretation of the EP Act was correct.
The earlier appeal in relation to the EPO (regarding the substance of the document) is yet to be heard by the Planning and Environment Court.
Investigation and prosecution of Linc and former executives
On 9 April 2018, a Brisbane District Court jury convicted Linc Energy Limited of all five counts of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm, in contravention of the Environmental Protection Act 1994. These verdicts conclude a ten week trial, which is the culmination of the largest and most complex environmental investigation conducted by the environmental regulator in Queensland’s history.
On 11 May 2018, the Brisbane District Court sentenced Linc Energy Limited to a total fine of $4.5 million for five offences of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm, over a period of seven years, in contravention of the Environmental Protection Act 1994. Convictions were also recorded against the company.
In addition, the Queensland Government has charged five former Linc Energy executives over the operation of the UCG site in Chinchilla. A committal hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court is currently in progress.