Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A new unconventional gas threat on the horizon for New South Wales?

On 9 September 2008 the Newcastle Herald reported on the proposal for a NSW in situ coal gasification project which was finally rejected in 2010:

Energie Future has applied under the Commonwealth Offshore Minerals Act for four mineral exploration licences that cover a total of 5940 square kilometres from Stockton Bight to Stanwell Park.
Energie spokesman Rick Somerton told The Herald that his company wanted to extract energy from seabed coal in a process called gasification.

However, in 2014 the NSW Coalition Government still lists in situ underground coal gasification (UCG) as a clean coal technology.

The UCG process involves using air or oxygen to ignite coal while it is still in the coal seam to produce gas. This process produces waste water/chemical by-products as well as a commercial gas often primarily composed of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane.

To date there appears to have been only four or five UCG pilot projects in eastern Australia. None have been in New South Wales. Three have been involved in serious environmental breaches.

In Chinchilla, Queensland, Linc Energy Ltd is decommissioning its UCG plant following a 2013 investigation by the state environmental agency.

According to ABC News on 16 April 2014:

Linc Energy is facing four charges of "wilfully and unlawfully" causing serious harm, each of which carries a fine of more than $450,000 or five years' jail…
The ABC understands one of the charges relates to a so-called overburden fracture, a crack in the layers of rock and soil that sit above the coal seam.
In some cases this can lead to the escape of gases into the air or allow groundwater into the cavity.

The Australian Financial Review on 24 September 2013 stated:

Cougar Energy [now known as Moreton Resource Pty Ltd] has been fined $75,000 for releasing a cancer causing chemical into groundwater at its coal seam gas trial project in Queensland.
The company's $550 million underground coal gasification (UCG) trial at Kingaroy was shut down by the Queensland government in January 2011 after the cancer causing chemical benzene was found in nearby bores.
Prosecutor Alan MacSporran QC told Brisbane Magistrates Court on Tuesday that Cougar had failed to install a production well in line with agreed environmental conditions and later released benzene into the local groundwater.
Mr MacSporran said Cougar also failed to notify authorities about the benzene release as soon as reasonably practicable.
Cougar pled guilty to three counts of contravening conditions of an environmental authority for a licence earlier in 2013….

Queensland Government media statement 6 December 2012:

Carbon Energy, which has a plant located between Dalby and Chinchilla, was fined $60,000 and its executive officer, Andrew Dash, was fined $2,000 for breaching their environmental conditions [by releasing contaminated water] and failing to notify the department….
Carbon was also ordered to pay $40,000 in legal and investigative costs.
Mr Powell said the company was charged following an investigation in 2010.

ABC News 8 July 2011:

The Queensland Government has dropped a controversial gas project in the state's south.
The underground coal gasification pilot in the South Burnett region has been shut down permanently after an investigation found it posed an unacceptable risk to underground water near the site.
Locals are relieved and are warning communities near other pilot projects to be vigilant.
Cougar Energy's underground coal gasification project is based at Kingaroy - a rich agricultural region in southern Queensland.
Terry Wall from Queensland's Department of Environment and Resource Management says the project was temporarily closed last year when traces of cancer-causing chemicals were found in water bores at the site.
"We found readings of chemicals, of benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene, known as BTEX chemicals. The most one of concern there was benzene," he said.
The Kingaroy project is one of three underground coal gasification testing plants in Queensland.
The State Government approved the plants to explore the viability of the new technology, which converts coal to gas using heat and chemicals.
But after the Kingaroy site was found to be contaminated, Cougar Energy was asked to explain and provide plans to prevent it happening again.
Mr Wall says the department was not convinced by Cougar's explanation.
He says the site has been shut down and the company must come up with a plan to nurse it back to health.
"To ensure that the groundwater actually is rehabilitated to its normal state and that equipment and other activities are removed from the site and the site is actually put back to its appropriate state," he said….

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