QBM women's leadership feature portraits
QBM women's leadership feature portraits

Farmers fume over plans to drill near disaster ‘ground zero’

LONG SHADOW

It went spectacularly bust nearly five years ago owing more than $300m to creditors.

But Linc Energy, which spawned one of Australia's worst environmental disasters as a result of its botched underground coal gasification activities, is still casting a long shadow across Queensland.

We learned this week that coal seam gas giant Arrow Energy, headed by Cecile Wake, has sought approvals to drill hundreds of new wells near the area previously contaminated by Linc on the Western Downs.

That move has sparked outrage among environmental activists and local farmers, who are still fuming over prime agricultural land and groundwater exposed to a toxic cocktail of chemicals and explosive gases left behind.

Arrow Energy boss Cecile Wake.
Arrow Energy boss Cecile Wake.

The poisoning was so severe that a 314sq km "excavation exclusion zone" was placed around the former Linc site at Hopeland for three years from 2015, preventing landowners from digging a hole deeper than two metres. The restricted area was later reduced to a 10sq km area.

Despite all this, Arrow has applied to expand the number of CSG wells at Hopeland, near Chinchilla, from the existing six to 280 as part of its mammoth $10bn Surat Gas Project.

The company, which is a 50/50 joint venture between Shell and PetroChina, also wants to build 440km of water and gas pipelines to support the new wells.

The Surat Gas Project, approved nearly two years ago by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, remains one of the state's biggest resources undertakings in the past decade, covering about 2500 sqkm between Dalby and Chinchilla.

SIMPLY MADNESS

After Linc collapsed and Queensland banned underground coal gasification because it was so flawed, taxpayers still had to fork out $31m to clean up the company's appalling mess.

Nevertheless, the prospect of fresh drilling in the area is now sparking fears among farmers such as Brian Bender, whose property growing cotton sits less than 10km from where Linc operated.

"There should not be any CSG activity around the Linc Energy site," Bender said.

"The risk of further contamination is too great. Until all the information regarding the damage has been released, there should be no drilling at that location. There are too many unknowns."

Chinchilla farmer Brian Bender.
Chinchilla farmer Brian Bender.

Lock the Gate Alliance operative Ellie Smith called on the state government to reject Arrow's application, denouncing it as "simply madness''.

But an Arrow spin doctor reassured us that the company had undertaken "extensive" internal and independent modelling from groundwater monitoring sites over the past three years.

"This data, and longer-term regional data, shows that Arrow's development will have a negligible to low level of impact on groundwater movement from the former Linc Energy site," he said.

"Arrow has committed to rigorous ongoing monitoring and reporting from this area over the duration of the project."

Following Linc's demise, a Brisbane District Court in 2018 found it guilty of causing serious environmental harm in the six years to 2013.

The court heard the pressure of air injected into underground chambers was too high, causing rock surrounding the coal seam to fracture, sending contaminants into the air, soil and water.

Five of Linc's former executives, including boss Peter Bond, have been committed to stand trial for allegedly breaching environmental laws. They are defending the case and deny wrongdoing.

Originally published as Farmers fume over plans to drill near disaster 'ground zero'


Shortage of medical specialists in Gladstone

Premium Content Shortage of medical specialists in Gladstone

General surgery is the only medical specialty not in shortage in Gladstone...

Anglo confirms Grosvenor staff will not appear at inquiry

Premium Content Anglo confirms Grosvenor staff will not appear at inquiry

A second tranche of hearings exploring the Grosvenor Mine blast starts Tuesday in...