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The "excavation caution zone" in the Hopeland area, south of Chinchilla. Contributed

More investigators head to Hopeland following gas leaks

THE Queensland Government is continuing further testing following the discovery of gases in soil below the surface at private properties in the Hopeland district.

Director-General, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) Jon Black said the department had mobilised additional resources to the Hopeland area.

"EHP is working closely with a range of both the private and government resources to rapidly determine the source and cause of the contamination," Mr Black said.

"The cause of the soil contamination has still not been determined, and investigations are ongoing. EHP appreciates the continuing cooperation from landholders in the area.

"At this stage we cannot rule out an underground fire as the cause of these gases being present in the soil."

Mr Black said EHP had engaged a team of professionals who will focus on testing water quality, air quality and soil quality.

"EHP is expected to receive results of further testing this week, including but not limited to, drinking water quality results," Mr Black said.

"While there is no evidence at this stage to suggest any risk to local drinking water supplies, rivers and ground water, including stock and domestic bores, the department is committed to conducting a thorough investigation and has initiated further testing.

"Once data has been reviewed and analysed by health and science experts, and independently verified, the information will be released.

"We will continue to keep the community informed and EHP has departmental officers on the ground to speak directly with landholders."

Information will be available on the EHP website, or provided directly to affected landholders where appropriate.

Queensland Health will continue to assess all information as it is made available, but at this stage has determined there is no current health risk.

Landholders have been advised that because the gases are in the subsoils, immediate impacts to grazing animals and stock are extremely unlikely.

Landholders within the identified published investigation area should contact EHP prior to excavation or any other activity which may occur two metres or deeper in the ground on their property.

Any person seeking further information should visit www.ehp.qld.gov.au

Lock the Gate demands answers

Activist group Lock the Gate Alliance has called for action to suspend both underground coal gasification and coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the Hopeland region.

The group claims the gases detected included carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and hydrogen sulfide.

The gases are explosive and farmers in the Hopeland area have been advised not to excavate or disturb soils greater than two metres deep without talking to the department.

"It seems the mobilisation of toxic gases in soils at Hopeland is most likely to have been caused by the Linc Energy underground coal gasification project nearby - a project that is supposed to be in the process of being de-commissioned," said Drew Hutton, president of Lock the Gate Alliance.

"This incident confirms that underground coal gasification is a dirty, polluting industry that should now be permanently banned in Queensland," Mr Hutton said.

"Hopeland farmers now simply cannot go about their regular business on the farm safely because if they were to disturb these soils there must be a serious risk of explosion or negative health impacts.

"The Hopeland area and surrounds is also being targeted for coal seam gas mining - an industry which poses similar threats to soil and water.

"Any CSG drilling in the Hopeland area now would be a massive risk to farmland, health and safety - there would be an enormous risk of explosion or mobilisation of these toxic gases.

"We're calling for a statewide, permanent and legal ban on underground coal gasification and an immediately halt to all plans for CSG drilling in and around Hopeland."

People concerned with CSG around Chinchilla met at a symposium on Saturday and vowed to stick together to fight "unwelcome" drilling.  The meeting was addressed by PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus who wants a Royal Commission established into the mining industry and its human impact.

Shay Dougall of the Hopeland Community Sustainability Group said locals had 'drawn a line in the sand' following the department's warning not to excavate.

Company refutes claims

Linc Energy, which operated a pilot underground coal gasification (UCG) project near Chinchilla, has released the following statement in regards to the government's findings:

"Linc Energy notes the media release on Friday from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Department) relating to the detection of gases in soil samples at two locations taken two metres deep in the Chinchilla area.

"The company confirms that it had not received any briefing from the Department in relation to these detections, and was only verbally advised by an officer of the Department of the intention to make a public statement approximately ten minutes prior to its media release being issued.

"When contacted by the Department, Linc Energy was advised that preliminary soil testing results at two undisclosed locations in the Chinchilla area had indicated elevated levels of methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) at levels which do not pose a threat to human health, livestock or crops.

"A map has subsequently been released by the Department, titled "Excavation Caution Zone", covering a large regional area of approximately 314km2 including the company's Chinchilla pilot project site (in the south east corner).

"Linc Energy's pilot project site (of 1 square kilometre) sits within the boundaries of the company's much larger property and has not been in production since 2013.

"It is currently in decommissioning and rehabilitation phase.

"Whilst it has been clearly noted by the Department that the gases detected pose no risk to human health, we are concerned that the Department's release may cause an inference to be drawn that these readings were in some way related to the company's Chinchilla operations.

"Personally, the company's management also find it extremely curious that based upon "preliminary results" alone, including the methane (CH4) detection that we were advised of by the Department in our telephone conversation (but did not appear in its public release), that the Department immediately and publically discounted the extensive on-going Coal Seam Gas (Coal Bed Methane) operations in the region as a possible cause.

"Linc Energy will continue to monitor this matter closely and seek further information from the Department."


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