Cougar sharpens claws for legal battle

Ready to pounce: Cougar is suing the Queensland government for over A$34 million

Cougar Energy is suing the Queensland government for more than A$34 million (US$35.2 million) over the decision to halt its underground coal gasification (UCG) project near Kingaroy in the state’s south-east.

Cougar revealed it had launched legal action on Monday against previous Department of Environment & Resource Management (DERM) chief executives John Bradley and Terry Wall and current head James Reeves for negligence and breach of statutory duties.

DERM ordered the closure of the project in July last year after traces of carcinogenic chemicals were found in monitoring bores close to the plant.

A year later DERM amended Cougar’s environmental authority stating no further UCG operations would be allowed at the plant, with only rehabilitation and monitoring activities being permitted.

DERM argued Cougar had not been able show it would be able to resume operations without an unacceptable risk to the environment and its decision to shut down the plant had been backed by a report earlier this year from the Underground Coal Gasification Independent Scientific Expert Panel.

In a statement on Monday Cougar said it had received legal advice the closure of the UCG project was unreasonable and compounded by the government’s refusal to allow the re-opening of the plant.

“Based on our legal advice, it is the actions of the Bligh Government, these office holders, and their unreasonable decisions, that have inflicted a significant loss on the company,” Cougar chairman Malcolm McAully said.

“During more than 15 months we have attempted to resolve the forced close-down with the government and DERM in good faith.

“However, as all of our proposals have been rejected, the company is left with no option but to seek Court intervention.”

McAully argued the company had not caused any environmental harm at the site or polluted water supplies.

“We are confident that our Kingaroy project is safe,” he said.

“It presents no danger to human health, no danger to drinking water, no danger to livestock and no danger to other farming activities and Cougar Energy has been unreasonably denied the opportunity to complete its trial at Kingaroy under the permits issued by the Queensland government.”

Acting Queensland Premier Andrew Fraser said the government would “vigorously” defend its actions in relation to Cougar and the actions of the three men being sued.

We are not going to be in a position here where a company decides to personally target individual officers of the government for multi-million-dollar damages to try and make officers cower,' he told reporters in Brisbane,” he told reporters.

'I know that these offices discharged their duties honourably in pursuit of the public interest.'

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