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Queensland opposition questions why landowners were not informed of contamination outside Linc Energy site

Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli has questioned why the state government did not inform the public when high levels of toxic chemicals were found in bores outside the Linc Energy underground coal gasification project in Hopeland, near Chinchilla.

The controversial Linc Energy project was conducted on the Darling Downs between 2000 and 2013 but was shut down after an Environment Department investigation found the site was highly contaminated. 

Linc was convicted in 2018 of wilfully and unlawfully causing environmental harm and fined $4.5 million.

Now News Corp reports four groundwater bores installed outside the boundary of the site returned test results showing dangerous levels of contamination in April of last year.

Toxic chemicals Benzene and cyanide were found in the bores just outside the site at levels far exceeding the maximum limit in Australia.

"Those reports are deeply troubling, both from an environmental perspective, but also from a cover-up perspective," Mr Crisafulli said on Saturday. 

"There are some very big questions for the minister to answer today: What did the minister know? What did her office know? What did the department know?

"Because there's a whole heap of Queenslanders, including neighbouring properties, who didn't know about it, and it smacks of a cover-up from where we're looking at it.

"Every single Queenslander deserves to know … why this wasn't openly discussed and rectified.

"We are concerned that the culture of secrecy and cover-us that's running through the government is now impacting our environment."

The opposition also asked why the test results were not placed on the environmental management register or contaminated land register. 

Minister for the Environment Meaghan Scanlon said she had been advised by the Department of Environment and Science that the nearby landowners would be informed of the test results. 

"My office was provided with information on the 13th of May, 2021, around the groundwater results, and we were advised at that time that adjacent landholders would be advised of that information," she said.

"All of these matters fall within the remit of the independent regulator — so we were advised as the ministerial office, but the decisions made and the public notification that is provided is entirely a matter for the department.

"My understanding is the department provided them information around the sampling of bores on their property.

"What I accept, though, is that landholders want the information around those adjacent or nearby properties — and that's certainly the indication that I received from that notification from the department, and I've asked going forward if we can look at providing a level of information to the public that they expect."

"We'll always look at how we can improve our environmental protection act to provide more information for the community."

Shadow Minister for the Environment Sam O'Connor called it a "disgraceful lack of accountability".

"This appears to be a major cover-up by the state government withholding information from neighbouring landholders and the local council all to protect their own political interests," he said in a statement.

"This can't be swept away by transferring the issue from one department to another.

"Public servants should not be thrown under a bus by ministers who take no responsibility.

"Queenslanders and Queensland's environment deserves better."

The Department of Environment and Science said no contaminants were found on other landowners' properties.

"No contaminants associated with UCG activities have been found in landholder water bores," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Landholders have been provided with results that relate directly to water bores on their property, most recently in September of 2021.

"Benzene and cyanide were found during monitoring of bores on Kummerows Road, but not in bores owned by landholders nearby.

"The Kummerows Road area has not at this time been placed on the environmental management register or contaminated land register as based on preliminary internal technical advice the chemical concentrations were determined to be unlikely to cause serious or material environmental harm."

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