Landfill operator Waste Recycling Group (WRG) Central has been fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,619 in a "landmark" prosecution for gas emissions brought by the Environment Agency (EA).

Newbury Magistrates’ Court heard that WRG manages the Hermitage Landfill site near Newbury.

The site has been closed since 2004, when it was covered with a clay cap and restoration soils to completely bury and contain the waste.

The site continues to be regulated under the terms of an environmental permit issued by the EA. Permit conditions include ensuring a system is in place to capture the landfill gas that is produced by decomposing waste.

The extraction system consists of a large number of wells that draw landfill gas out of the site and pump it to a flare, which burns the potentially harmful gas and converts methane to CO2. An alarm system is activated if there is a fault with the flare to allow an emergency plan to be put in place.

However, in May 2008, the power supply to parts of the site was switched off to enable work to continue on restoring it to agricultural use.

Power to the gas-flare alarm system was interrupted, which resulted in WRG not being aware that a large number of perimeter boreholes had exceeded the permitted levels for methane and CO2 in early June.

The loss of the gas flare meant that there was no gas extraction across the landfill, resulting in gas escaping in several directions as well as the potential of it escaping into the atmosphere.

The EA described the incident as “careless” and said that the company had failed to follow its own procedures.

WRG pleaded guilty to two offences under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007 and its predecessor, the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations 2000.