Hopeland's 'cloud of contamination'

Hopeland's 'cloud of contamination'

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Hopeland Community Sustanability Group member Shay Dougall, Wilgalee, Hopeland. <i>- Picture: SARAH COULTON.</i>

Hopeland Community Sustanability Group member Shay Dougall, Wilgalee, Hopeland. - Picture: SARAH COULTON.

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FEARS about soil contamination and the impact of Linc Energy's decommissioned underground coal gasification facility have resurfaced.

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RESIDENTS on the western Darling Downs are calling for a "please explain" from the Queensland government after fresh allegations have come to light regarding Linc Energy's underground coal gasification (UCG) facility.

Linc Energy has been in the process of decommissioning its pilot plant at Hopeland, near Chinchilla, since October 2013.

On Monday, the ABC reported it had obtained a copy of a study commissioned by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP), which alleged Linc Energy's operations were to blame for irreparable damage to the soil.

EHP has launched criminal prosecution against the company, with Linc Energy facing five charges, each with a maximum penalty of $6.5 million.

Hopeland Community Sustainability Group member Shay Dougall said the Hopeland community remained "under a cloud of contamination" as a result of the ongoing investigation.

Queensland Country Life previously spoke with Ms Dougall in March after gases commonly associated with combustion were discovered in the soil at depths of between two and six metres.

At the time, EHP put an excavation caution zone in place, requiring landholders to contact EHP prior to conducting excavation works deeper than two metres.

Ms Dougall said they attended a meeting with EHP in June, which led landholders to understand the problem was manageable.

She said they were informed there would be no impact on air, health and families; however she is "pretty sure that's not what that secret report says".

"I don't think the change in government has anything to do with a change in corruption and contingencies – that clearly must be an understood arrangement," Ms Dougall said.

"For it to be so entrenched, it is entirely obvious there is something rotten in the entire coal industry, whether it's CSG or UCG.

"We are surrounded by extraordinary examples that leave you shaking your head and wondering how this could be real."

According to the Darling Downs Environment Council (DDEC), the residents of Hopeland "have had their land ruined and their health threatened".

“After warning authorities for years and being written off as whingers these residents have a right to get their lives back," DDEC organiser Paul King said.

A spokesperson for EHP said their priority was the "health, safety and economic prosperity of this community".

The spokesperson said charges against Linc Energy had been brought as a consequence of a comprehensive, resource-intensive investigation, and were currently before the court. Committal proceedings are listed to commence in October 2015.

"On the basis of information currently available, there are no immediate concerns in relation to human health in the community," they said.

"The full extent of any impacts to agriculture, including grazing or cropping, are continuing to be investigated by the department’s experts and the University of Queensland."

Linc Energy has strongly rejected the allegations that its Hopeland facility has caused serious environmental harm.

According to the ABC, EHP's report alleges four departmental investigators were hospitalised after conducting testing at the site.

In a statement released to Queensland Country Life, Linc Energy said the four people had voluntarily admitted themselves to hospital as a precautionary measure.

Linc Energy commissioned an independent investigation as a result, which they claim found there was no presence of carbon monoxide at the site where the parties were working.

Property Rights Australia chairman Dale Stiller said if landowners were not fully and fairly compensated, then governance would be no better than that of a third world country.

"Property Rights Australia finds it unacceptable that yet again landowners, including agricultural producers, have been treated as second class citizens and have not been fully informed," he said.

"The report brought to light on Monday revealed that the Department had disclosed the report to Linc Energy but had kept landowners in the dark.

"Like most of Australia there are small sweet pockets of very good land amongst the rest and the core Hopeland area is highly productive cropping land. These are generation food producers who can feel the goodness of the soil available for generations to come and to learn that there is a high probability of permanent damage to these soils can only be devastating."

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