An energy company says it will challenge a state ruling that shut down its underground coal gasification (UCG) activities, arguing the government has overreacted.


The Queensland government last month shelved Cougar Energy’s UCG trial at Kingaroy, north of Brisbane, saying the company had failed to prove it was environmentally safe.

It followed the suspension of the trial in July last year after traces of the cancer-causing chemical benzene were found in groundwater monitoring bores on the site.

Cougar Energy was asked to present evidence supporting its claims the UCG process was not contaminating groundwater to the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) and to an independent panel of scientists.

But the government said the company had failed to prove there were no unacceptable risks to the environment.

On Tuesday, Cougar Energy Limited announced it would challenge the decision.

It said a government-appointed independent scientific panel needed to appropriately review the 17 reports, totalling more than 650 pages, that Cougar had submitted.

Cougar Energy’s managing director, Len Walker, said the closure of the plant was unjustified as there was a “complete lack of environmental harm” to Kingaroy.

“(There was) only two readings of two parts per billion, a minuscule amount from one isolated monitoring bore,” Mr Walker told business broadcaster BoardRoom Radio Broadcast.

“No farmers’ bores have measured any contaminants above the level of detection.

“For all of these reasons we are obliged really to dispute the notice.

“Secondly, we have the opportunity to criticise comments on the independent scientific panel report in some detail.”

While there is no defined time limit for DERM to respond to the legal challenge, Mr Walker said the department had assured him they would treat the matter with urgency.

He said Cougar also has the option of calling for an independent review.

“Depending on the result of that independent review, we then have various legal options, so there is two or three phases to this process,” he said.

State Environment Minister Kate Jones said the company was free to appeal the decision.

“That was to be expected and we’ll obviously look at that when we receive that,” she told reporters.

Gary Tessman, president of the Kingaroy Concerned Citizens Group (KCCG), said residents and local farmers were not surprised by the legal challenge, but were confident Cougar would not succeed in overturning the government’s decision.

“It seems to be plain to everyone except Cougar Energy that the decision to shut the plant is one that is based on simple scientific commonsense,” Mr Tessman said in a statement.

“I think today we will listen to an independent scientific panel rather than Cougar Energy.”