Bungles on Kingaroy UCG approval

ENVIRONMENTAL regulations in Queensland were "inadequate" to provide environmental protection against emerging technologies, a report by the State Ombudsman revealed on Wednesday.

The report was the result of a two-year investigation into the administrative approvals of a controversial underground coal gasification project near Kingaroy.

The Cougar Energy pilot was one of three similar projects initiated in 2010, after the previous Labor government released a policy allowing the practice of burning coal reserves underground at three sites.

But the Cougar Energy project was shut down in June 2010 after the company notified the State Government of contaminated ground water in the Kingaroy region.

In January 2011, Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke began investigating the State Environment Department's approvals of the UCG project.

Mr Clarke's report revealed a raft of bureaucratic failures and inconsistencies in the State's environment impact statement process.

The report showed conflicting EIS guidelines may have led to the project not being required to complete a full impact statement, despite "areas of potentially high or unknown environmental impact".

"In the circumstances, the EIS guideline does not add any clarity to the issue," Mr Clarke wrote.

The report said that departmental officers indicated an "expected high-level of impact" from the project on water quality, discharges, hydrology, groundwater, land erosion, subsequent land use and other issues.

But despite the advice to a high-level assessment committee, no more information was provided by the department, creating a risk the approval would be made on "inappropriate or incorrect assumptions".

Mr Clarke also wrote the lack of an appropriate environmental assessment checklist "exposed a weakness in the Environmental Protection Authority's decision-making process".

"In my view, the assessment did not adequately consider the intersection between the use of a novel or emerging technology and the lack of knowledge about environmental impacts".

Mr Clarke recommended to the department that it review its policies, checklist and guidelines for environmental impact assessments.

In correspondence with the department's director-general, Mr Clarke wrote he did not find that an EIS would have altered the ultimate outcome of the approval, but related strictly to "the adequacy of assessment".

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