A failed energy company accused of knowingly and illegally polluting a significant part of Queensland's Darling Downs has faced trial in a landmark criminal case in Brisbane.
Linc Energy is charged with five counts of wilfully and unlawfully causing environmental harm between 2007 and 2013 after allegedly allowing toxic gas to leak from its operations.
The Brisbane District Court trial has heard Linc’s four underground coal gasification (UCG) sites and water were polluted to the point it was unfit for stock to consume but the company kept operating.
Crown prosecutor Ralph Devlin QC told the jury the company allowed hazardous contaminants to spread even after scientists and workers warned about gases bubbling from the ground.
Linc operated four UCG sites in Chinchilla where it burnt coal underground at very high temperatures to create gas.
In his opening address on Tuesday, Mr Devlin said scientists warned senior managers about the risk environmental harm was being caused throughout the operation.
One worker even spread detergent across the ground and took photos of gas bubbling across a wide area around a site, he told the jury.
Mr Devlin said Linc CEO Peter Bond was aware “of the fundamental principles that guided environmentally safe UCG, including the containment of UCG products”.
But he never directed workers to follow mandated safe practices, the prosecution alleged.
“Bond prioritised Linc’s commercial interests over the requirements of operating its mining activity in an environmentally safe manner,” Mr Devlin said.
“Linc did nothing to stop, mitigate or rehabilitate the state of affairs that Linc itself had caused.”
As part of the UCG process, Linc injected air into the ground, which created and enlarged fractures.
It tried to concrete surface cracks and use wells to control pressure but they didn’t sufficiently reduce risks or damage, the court heard.
“Linc kept going, even knowing the measures weren’t working,” Mr Devlin said.
Scientists who visited the site are due to give evidence during the nine-week trial, but no senior managers from the company, which is in liquidation, will take the stand.
The trial continues.