Workers at an underground coal gasification plant on Queensland’s Western Darling Downs were told to drink milk and eat yoghurt to protect their stomachs from acid, a court has heard.
The gas company has pleaded not guilty to five counts of causing serious environmental harm from its underground coal gasification operations between 2007 and 2013 in Chinchilla.
The corporation is not defending itself as it is in liquidation so there is no-one in the dock or at the bar table representing the defence.
A witness statement by former gas operator Timothy Ford was read to the court, which he prepared in 2015 before his death.
The court was not told how Mr Ford died.
He said the gas burnt his eyes and nose and he would need to leave the plant after work to get fresh air because it made him feel sick.
“We were told to drink milk in the mornings and at the start of shift… we were also told to eat yoghurt,” he said.
“The purpose of this was to line our guts so the acid wouldn’t burn our guts.
“We were not allowed to drink the tank water and were given bottled water.”
Mr Ford said he always felt lethargic, suffered infections and had shortness of breath.
“During my time at the Linc site, would be the sickest I have been,” he said.
“It is my belief that workplace was causing my sickness.
“I strongly feel that the Linc site was not being run properly due to failures of the wells and gas releases.”
Former manager told company to shut down plant
A former project manager at the UCG plant, Mariano Minotti, told the court he repeatedly warned the gas company in 2007 that the site should be shut down to avoid contamination.
He told the court he warned senior management, including CEO Peter Bond, on several occasions that gas was escaping from the site and potentially causing damage.
In October 2007 Mr Minotti sent an email to Mr Bond recommending the site be shut down.
“We know for sure that the cement and/or the procedure used for the cementation of the five wells was not done properly or at least not properly considering our gas composition, temperatures and pressures,” he wrote.
“When we started working at high pressure the air/gas started to escape through the cement and the casing, finding its way into the overburden and into a salty aquifer.
“My plan of attack… shut down the site immediately as suggested three weeks ago to avoid further corrosion, contamination, if any, of groundwater and potential accident.”
Mr Minotti said when it was raining he noticed bubbling in puddles on the ground at the site and set up gas monitors to work out what it was.
“It was syngas coming out to the surface,” he said.
The trial continues.