The mammoth investigation is over, as is the trial - but questions remain about who'll foot the bill.
The mammoth investigation is over, as is the trial - but questions remain about who'll foot the bill. Alasdair Young

Record fine for Linc scandal - but don't bet it will be paid

RECORD fines for Linc Energy's "ecological vandalism” may never be paid, as taxpayers face untold clean-up costs.

The failed underground coal gasification company was convicted on Friday and fined $4.5 million for its activities over some six years at Chinchilla.

But liquidators say the fine will enjoy no privilege, and is unlikely to be paid.

As Chinchilla landowners and locals face cleaning up contamination, Brisbane's Grant Sparks of PPB Advisory is a liquidator cleaning up financial entanglements.

He said existing law meant the fines were not "provable in a liquidation” and would not be prioritised.

He said litigation for remediation, or environmental clean-up costs, was already underway.

The state might get some money from that, Mr Sparks said, but there was not enough available to pay the $4.5 million.

But "chain of responsibility” laws allowed environmental obligations to be enforced against "related people” of financially-troubled companies - such as major shareholders - to ensure communities don't bear clean-up costs.

Lock the Gate alliance said tougher standards were needed to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

Meanwhile, the LNP blamed Labor for the pollution.

"They should never have approved this project,” the LNP's Deb Frecklington said on Friday.

But environment minister Leeanne Enoch congratulated the Department of Environment for its investigation.

The minister said Queensland had some of the world's "highest environmental standards” and a strong record of environmental compliance.

After a 10-week trial, jurors last month found Linc guilty on five counts of causing environmental damage.

Bubbling on the earth's surface was one of several problems at Chinchilla, along with the lateral spread of toxins underground.

Judge Michael Shanahan said Linc's "ecological vandalism” included covering up a surface phenomenon known as "Mr Bubbles” with "crusher dust”.

He said Linc knew of widespread well failures and gas bubbling, but often responded inadequately.

Prosecutor Ralph Devlin said Linc acted in a "devious and cavalier way” for commercial gain.

He said the company behaved as if a "magic barrier” confined contamination within the mineral development licence boundary.

Several former Linc executives have separate matters before the courts. -NewsRegional


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