By HARRY CLARKE | EXCLUSIVE
A THIRD generation cattle grazier living next door to Linc Energy’s former underground coal gasification (UCG) plant near Chinchilla is adamant the company’s experimental mining activities, which date back to the year 2000, are having no impact on his farming operations, nor his health.
Toby Trebilco, whose family has owned thousands of acres of prime agricultural land in the immediate vicinity of Linc’s UCG site since allotments in the district were first balloted in the early 1900s, is one of few beef producers in the otherwise intensive cropping area around Hopeland.
Unlike crop farmers who irrigate their paddocks with water accumulated via overland flow, Trebilco’s cattle drink from either underground bores or from a waterway fed by runoff from the former UCG property.
Trebilco said he was the only landowner who received water via overland flow from the Linc site before it continued running west into the Condamine River system – all other landholders in the area receive overland flow from separate catchments.
He also said that he had no concern whatsoever about revelations last week that low levels of cyanide and benzene had been detected in groundwater adjacent to both his property and the former Linc property.
“That gully that comes out of Linc – that’s what I use for watering my lawn and my garden, and sometimes my cattle,” Trebilco said.
“I had people here on the weekend who couldn’t get over the beautiful lawn and I told them sarcastically ‘that’s polluted water from Linc Energy’. It just brings a laugh.
“Nobody on my gully is actually catching the overland flow water for irrigation (crop farming). It’s an overland flow gully and we love it because we’ve got a big lawn and a big garden.”
Trebilco has watched in exasperation over the past week as revelations, showing that potentially dangerous chemicals had been found in groundwater outside the former Linc property, have become what he believes is nothing more than a political football.
“We put up with all the phone calls and the slinging and the slurs that are levelled at us, making out that our land is ruined, when in fact there’s nothing wrong,” he said.
The Weekend Australian newspaper revealed that, as recently as April, low levels of cyanide and benzene had been detected around the former Linc Energy site during ongoing groundwater monitoring by the Department of Environment (DES), which now owns and manages the property.
Documents leaked from the department reportedly indicated that benzene, a chemical linked to leukaemia and other blood cancers, had been found up to 25 times the maximum limit of Australia’s drinking water quality and livestock watering guidelines.
Cyanide levels in the bores have been found to be up to 10 times the same standards, The Weekend Australian reported.
Further, the leaked documents also indicated the test results had been kept secret from landholders amid warnings of possible legal action against the Queensland Government.
Opposition Leader David Crisafulli described the decision not to publish the findings on the land contamination register as “a cover up of the highest order”, while a DES statement said “analysis of the four samples indicates that the concentration of contaminants is trending down, and the likelihood of environmental harm arising is considered very low to negligible”.
Trebilco, whose family originally owned the UCG site, named “Capowie”, before it was purchased by Linc Energy, said he was convinced any toxic chemicals found during DES tests were not impacting his land or his cattle.
He also said historic testing of bores on his property had found no contaminants, which is in line with the DES statement that said “landholder bores surrounding the former Linc Energy site have not been impacted”.
“The environment department would have known about this but decided not to let it out because of what’s happened, of course,” Trebilco said.
“Politics is a filthy game and they would have wanted to sit on this and hope it didn’t get out, but when all is said and done it doesn’t affect us.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the levels of benzene and cyanide that were detected when these wells were sampled won’t develop.
“I think this whole mess is due to the incompetence of the department and their advisors and contractors. The only way the truth will probably come out now is if there’s a full and impartial assessment of the department’s works.”
The Trebilcos were among numerous landholders in the vicinity of the Linc Energy site whose properties were put under quarantine when the DES levelled charges against the company for environmental contamination as a result of its UCG activity in 2015.
The saga caused immense stress for Trebilco, who said perceptions that his produce was somehow contaminated threatened his longstanding commercial relationships with local meat works operators.
“I breed very good, quality cattle and I produce for a niche market. I like to do it well and I don’t want to do it at all if I can’t do it well,” he said.
“The thing that I find terribly hard is that this brings another slur against us.
“We love our land, we’re connected to it and it’s in our DNA and we find it extremely hurtful when these things pop up. We love our land and our cattle. It rips me apart when I see this sort of thing.”
Trebilco also said that expert advice provided to him suggested that the contaminants found in the DES’s recent tests were the result of explosives used to perforate bores and gather underground water samples, as opposed to being a byproduct of historic UCG activity.
Responding to a query by the Caller as to whether the detections of benzene and cyanide may be the result of thermal decomposition of military grade explosives used to perforate the testing wells, a DES spokesperson said: “This is a complex question and further information and science is required to provide an answer”.