Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is a technology that involves drilling into coal seams and combusting the coal in situ in the presence of steam, air or oxygen to create syngas that is drawn to the surface through the production well.
Recent UCG trials have resulted in serious contamination of surrounding groundwater and surface subsidence. The process creates toxic waste products and polluted water that are very problematic to dispose of. It also leaves a massive footprint in terms of coal extraction, water consumption, energy use and toxic waste creation and disposal, and large quantities of greenhouse gases are emitted. The potential climate change and environmental implications of these industries are staggering.
Australia has been home to three principal UCG projects. They were all in Queensland and they have all ended in charges of environmental damage. Recently, major contamination of groundwater and soil caused by Linc Energy’s UCG trial project near Chinchilla, was described by the Queensland's Environment Minister as “the biggest pollution event probably in Queensland's history…certainly the biggest pollution investigation and prosecution in Queensland's history”. This disaster resulted in a decision in April 2016 by the Queensland Government to ban UCG. Moratoriums are also in place in Scotland and Wales in the UK.
Despite the warning of the failed Queensland projects, there are now two projects planned for South Australia. One is the Leigh Creek Energy project, which involves people who were part of the disastrous Queensland Linc Energy project, and has already commenced exploration at Leigh Creek. The other project is the Arckaringa underground coal gasification project, which is a joint venture between Sino-Aus Energy Group and Altona Energy.
Following the experience in Queensland and concerns expressed by local residents and Traditional Owners about the Leigh Creek project, the Greens moved in Parliament calling for the SA Government to follow the lead of their counterparts in Queensland and ban the practice of underground coal gasification in South Australia. Click here for more details.
In the absence of any action by the SA Labor Government, Mark Parnell subsequently introduced a Greens Bill to ban underground coal gasification in SA in November 2016. Click here to read the speech and for a copy of the Bill.
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