'Linc Energy has been fined $4.5 million, the highest penalty ever imposed under Queensland law for environmental offending, for environmental damage caused by its underground coal gasification plant at Chinchilla in the Darling Downs.
Handing down his judgement, District Court judge Michael Shanahan said Linc Energy was "persistent and in clear breach" of its obligations at the trial site, with soil and groundwater contamination that could take decades to clear.
However, with Linc liquidated in 2016 with debts of $320 million, Judge Shanahan said he doubted the company's capacity to pay the fines.
He said Linc had been aware of the leaking gas as it upscaled the plant to commercial scale.
"Each gasifier was operating in a manner that resulted in explosive toxic gases, tars and oils escaping into parts of the landform," he said.
"The offences have resulted in contamination of the groundwater system and will require monitoring and remediation for many years to come."
Five executive directors have been charged with failing to ensure the company's compliance with environmental regulations and will face a committal hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in July.