SA’s Weatherill Government considers highly controversial gas technology despite Queensland ban

The Minister for Mineral Resources and Public Energy is seeking public comment regarding the use of underground coal gasification in an old mine site in Leigh Creek.

The process was banned in Queensland almost 2 years ago after it caused ‘the biggest pollution event in Queensland’s history’, yet this hasn’t stopped SA from considering it.

Wilderness Society SA director and 2016 Australian Environmentalist of the Year Peter Owen says we simply don’t need this here.

“After Queensland has made it illegal in that state, how can minister (Tom) Koutsantonis think that it is appropriate in South Australia?” he said.

“Allowing this dirty technology in our state is completely at odds with a government that regularly flies to Paris and New York to trumpet their climate change credentials.”

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In 2016, Scotland banned the use of UCG. Image credit: Friends of the Earth, Scotland.

Professor Andrew Blakers is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy at the Australian National University. He questions why the government would bother.

“(Photovoltaics) and wind are both cheaper than gas and will get even cheaper. SA has excellent wind and solar, and already gets 50% of its electricity from wind and PV – which will rapidly increase over the next decade towards 70-100%,” he said.

“The Queensland experience is very discouraging – major long-term pollution for little or no benefit.”

An Indigenous community in the Leigh Creek area is also worried that the process could damage areas of cultural significance.

According to Talk Fracking, increasing the depth of UCG is the most effective way to soften the environmental risks, however why try something so uncertain when we can invest in reliable, renewable energy?

Minister Tom Koutsantonis says the project won’t go through unless it is approved. It is yet to receive government backing and is being considered by independent experts.

If you feel opposed to the project, you can sign Conservation Council SA’s petition here.

What is UCG?

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Image credit: Frack Off! The Extreme Energy Action Network.

UCG refers to the process of burning naturally occurring gas which has been trapped underground by water and ground pressure.

The process of UCG is all taken place under the ground, which is dissimilar to fracking.

Once oxygen is injected into the coal seam, the coal is ignited. This creates a conversion to CO2 and heat, producing carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen gas (H2) and methane (CH4).

The opening is left with tar, solid char and ashes once the gases are removed through a production well.

What happened in Queensland?

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The use of UCG was banned in Queensland after hundreds of square kilometres were contaminated with harmful gases in Hopeland.

For some of the best agricultural country in Queensland, we can’t imagine there was much hope for the land after that.

The government didn’t disclose the nature of the environmental harm, however the National Toxics Network says UCG can cause ‘contamination of ground water, air pollution, subsidence of the overlying terrain and climate change exacerbation’.

The pilot company, Linc Energy, was committed for trial in the district court on five counts of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm.

They faced fines of more than 2 million dollars and have since been liquefied.

There have been similar incidents overseas, where UCG was linked to groundwater pollution in Wyoming and Colorado, and a methane explosion at a plant in Spain.

Currently the only commercial UCG site in the world is in Uzbekistan.

Let’s keep it to that, or better yet, remove that one too.

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