The Queensland government has charged five former executives of Linc Energy with breaching environmental law over the operation of its underground coal gasification (UCG) site in Chinchilla from 2007 to 2013. They face up to five years in prison if found guilty.
Linc Energy’s founder and former chief executive Peter Bond was charged in September with three indictable offences of failing to ensure Linc Energy complied with the state’s Environmental Protection Act. He and four other senior staff — Donald Schofield, Stephen Dumble, Jacobus Terblanche and Darryl Rattai — were summonsed on November 14 on two additional charges.
Linc Energy, which is now in liquidation with estimated debts of $300 million, is also facing five charges of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm, with a total maximum penalty of more than $8.8 million.
The company and the executives have denied the charges. They are expected to appear at the Dalby Magistrates Court on November 29.
An investigation by the state’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection — begun after four workers at the site fell ill with suspected gas poisoning — found that hundreds of square kilometres of prime agricultural land near the facility had been permanently acidified, with methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide that had allegedly seeped from Linc’s UCG site.
The multi-million-dollar investigation was the largest in the department’s history.
At committal proceedings last year, the Dalby Magistrates Court was told workers at the site had also been exposed to “significant concentrations” of gases, with some claiming they fell ill after being exposed.
Queensland’s environment minister, Steven Miles, said: “Queensland’s Environment Department is continuing its formal investigation into the activities of Linc Energy and it's possible more charges could be laid.
“As investigations remain active, and as this matter is now before the courts, the government won’t comment further on the details of the current charges.”