Linc Energy face further charges related to allegations of soil contamination caused by the experimental Coal Gasification Plant in the Surat Basin.
The Queensland government yesterday filed a fifth charge against the company for causing serious environmental harm.
Queensland environment minister Steven Miles said the investigation was one of the biggest of its kind in Australia, as the department has had more than 100 technical officers monitoring sites south of Chinchilla to measure soil pollution from the UCG activities.
"Our next biggest concern is the impact that this pollution could have on the livelihoods and on the wellbeing of the landholders in the area nearby Linc,” he said
"We're talking about approximately 320 square kilometres which has been the subject of an exclusion zone put in place for some time now."
A spokesperson for Linc Energy criticised the way the environment department has conducted the investigation, suggesting there was insufficient evidence to lay charges when the initial accusations were made.
"Both the minister and the director-general have refused to meet with Linc despite numerous requests to discuss the manner in which the proceedings have been conducted, and haphazard manner in which the regional investigation was conducted,” he said.
It is alleged that Linc Energy’s activities resulted in operation of the plant above hydrostatic pressue, which fractured landforms and allowed the excursion of contaminants into the soil to depth of two to six metres.
The latest charge against Linc was filed in the Dalby Magistrates Court, with penalties for each charge attracting up to five years jail or fines up to $6.5 million.
Aerial surveys conducted by the department using thermal imagery have confirmed that underground combustion is no longer occurring in the area.
However lab testing of soil samples have returned results indicating the presence of gases which could present “an explosive risk associated with conducting excavation works”.
Contaminants include carbon monoxide, hydrogen and hydrogen sulphide, which are consistent with the UCG combustion process.
Linc Energy said the UCG and CSG industry pursued the same type of tight coal seams, and that the Linc plant had exhausted it's underlying resource for Syngas production.
The USG process turns coal into syngas via a process which pumps steam and oxygen into a coal seam and begins a combustive chemical reaction.
Linc Energy said it was not possible for that process to lead to further combustion once oxygen reserves had been exhausted.
Linc Energy’s board of directors have recently undergone a number of changes, including agreement to reduce non-executive directors’ salaries by 20 per cent, the appointment of a new non-executive director, Ong Tiong Soon, the redesignation of Ken dark as independent director, and the appointment of Chris Munday as chief financial officer.