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In-situ coal gasification (ISCG)

Also called underground coal gasification (UCG)

In-situ coal gasification is the partial burning of an underground coal seam resulting in the generation of gases including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen with the aim of capturing the carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen which are flammable and can be used as fuels. The process results in the release into the atmosphere of unacceptable amounts of greenhouse gasses, as explained below. It is one of the dirtiest ways of getting energy known to Man.

In the 15 or so years up to the time of writing (February 2019) South Australia has led the nation in changing from polluting fossil fuelled electricity generation to sustainable renewable electricity generation. ISCG is one of the most greenhouse polluting forms of energy production known. If the state government was to allow the development of this highly unethical industry it would be a terrible backward step.

My primary concern with ISCG is its very high greenhouse emissions, but apparently in Queensland the development resulted in local environmental damage as well.

Pollution in Queensland, Link to Leigh Creek

ISCG was banned in Queensland after a company called Linc Energy was found guilty of causing wilful and unlawful serious environmental harm at Chinchilla on Queensland's Darling Downs. The ISCG proposal in South Australia is run by a company called Leigh Creek Energy. According to ABC online news, Leigh Creek Energy's chairman, Justyn Peters, used to be the general manager of government and environmental affairs at Linc Energy. The full ABC article is here. I've written more on this page about the link between Leigh Creek Energy and Linc Energy.

Taxpayers pay $31 million to clean up mess

Lydia Lynch reported in the Brisbane Times, 2019/06/16, that Queensland taxpayers were having to spend almost $31 million to clean up the pollution left by Linc Energy.

This page was written 2019/02/20, last edited 2020/07/11
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
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The images below show some of the clean energy developments that have taken place, and continue to take place, in South Australia.

The future of energy is in renewables.

Industrial solar PV power; clean solar energy
Solar winery
On a winery in the Clare Valley, 2016/01/17
A utility-scale wind farm; clean wind energy
Wind farm
Wattle Point Wind Farm, 2007/08/25
Solar thermal power; clean solar thermal energy
Solar thermal power
Sundrop Farms, Port Augusta, 2016/09/05
Domestic solar PV; clean solar energy
New solar
Armagh, 2014/02/18
Utility-scale solar PV; Bungala Solar Farm, clean solar PV, under construction
Bungalla Solar Farm
Port Augusta, 2018/05/10

Northern SA a leader in renewable energy

Northern South Australia has become a leader in the development of renewable energy in Australia with more wind and solar developments than any comparable region in Australia.

For a dirty technology such as ISCG to be added to the region's energy resources is unnecessary and a betrayal, even a crime.

As illustrated by the images on the right, South Australia's (and Australia's) energy futures could be, should be, and increasingly will be, in renewable energy. The growth industries are:

  • Utility scale solar PV;
  • Industrial rooftop solar PV;
  • Domestic rooftop solar PV;
  • Wind power.
In the near future expect to see growth in:
  • Battery energy storage;
  • Pumped hydro energy storage;
  • Production of clean hydrogen and ammonia from renewably generated electricity;
  • Solar thermal energy generation and storage.
Australia's, and the world's, energy futures are with renewably generated electricity, not with fossil fuels.

The implications of in-situ coal gasification

In-situ gasification (ISCG) has been trialled at Leigh Creek in the Northern Flinders Ranges (in the same coal beds that were used to supply the Port Augusta power stations before they were closed).

In terms of carbon intensity (the amount of greenhouse gasses released per unit of useful energy obtained) ISCG is worse even than mining and burning coal. It is the least attractive option for producing energy from the point of view of greenhouse emissions minimisation.

With ISCG the coal is partially burned underground, releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen; the carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gasses.

The intention is that these gasses will be collected and later the carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen will be burned to obtain useful energy, releasing carbon dioxide, and steam.

A major risk of the process is that some of the carbon dioxide and methane generated in the coal seam is likely to leak into the atmosphere. Methane is a very active greenhouse gas, far more active than carbon dioxide.

It would be a serious backward step, ethically and environmentally, for ISCG to be used in South Australia's energy future.

The link between Linc Energy (Queensland) and Leigh Creek Energy (South Australia)

In November 2018 Angelique Donnellan wrote an article for the ABC titled "Is Leigh Creek's controversial energy trial a lifeline for a dying town or an environmental hazard?" Some quotes from the ABC article:
"Earlier this year, a company called Linc Energy was found guilty of causing wilful and unlawful serious environmental harm at Chinchilla on Queensland's Darling Downs.

The court found the company, which used UCG [underground coal gasification], allowed toxic gases, tars and oils to escape into the soil, groundwater and air.

Linc Energy was fined $4.5 million.

Queensland's former environment minister, Steven Miles, described Chinchilla as the "biggest pollution event" in the state's history.

UCG is now banned in Queensland.

Leigh Creek Energy chairman Justyn Peters said the Chinchilla incident had unfairly tarnished the reputation of UCG. Mr Peters used to be the general manager of government and environmental affairs at Linc Energy."
Mr Peters was quoted as saying:
"I don't believe there is environmental damage caused at Chinchilla"
The Queensland environment minister described Chinchilla as the biggest pollution event in the Queensland's history, the court fined Linc Energy $4.5 million, but Mr Peters doesn't believe there was any damage; draw your own conclusions.

Taxpayers pay $31 million to clean up mess

Lydia Lynch reported in the Brisbane Times, 2019/06/16, that Queensland taxpayers were having to spend almost $31 million to clean up the pollution left by Linc Energy.

Open letter to Dan van Holst Pellekaan

Mr van Holst Pellekaan is Member of the South Australian House of Assembly for the seat of Stuart, which includes Leigh Creek, and is South Australian Minister for Energy and Mining in the Liberal Marshall Government.

I sent the below to Mr van Holst Pellekaan as an email on 2019/02/20.

"Three simple and closely related questions, if I may. As you would be well aware, if we are to combat climate change we must reduce the carbon intensity of our energy supply. With South Australia's very successful adoption of renewable energy the state's overall carbon intensity has been greatly reduced.

You would also know that with in-situ gasification the coal is partially burned underground, releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen. Later the carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen are burned to obtain useful energy, releasing more carbon dioxide, and steam.

So, it would seem that ISCG has among the highest carbon intensity of any likely way of producing energy.

My questions are:
  1. Has the carbon intensity for the Leigh Creek ISCG been evaluated?
  2. If so, what is it?
  3. Does the Marshal Government place any limit of carbon intensity of energy?
Regards, Dave Clarke"

The response below was sent 2019/03/11

(Either I did not receive it or I lost track of receiving it.)
"Thank you for your emails of 20 February 2019 regarding carbon intensity and in-situ gasification (ISG) at Leigh Creek.

Firstly, I would like to inform you that the South Australian Government aims towards net zero emissions by 2050. The South Australian Government also supports Australia's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 as ratified under the Paris Agreement.

In response to your questions relating to ISG at Leigh Creek, carbon intensity is not currently regulated for any industries in South Australia or at a national level.

Separately, it is too early to assess potential carbon intensities for alternative potential development options for Leigh Creek's underground coal gasification (UCG) project, some which may consume carbon dioxide (CO2) as feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals and some may entail the carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The demonstration project by Leigh Creek Energy (LCK) is small-scale and for a limited time period, and is specifically designed to evaluate the environmental, safety and technical performance of the pre-commercial demonstration plant in accordance with the relevant Statement of Environmental Objectives.

Measurements of produced synthetic gas compositions (including CO2 production) are a part of this trial.

Any further expansion of operations to a commercial-scale production facility would require LCK to submit a new application for assessment and review including comprehensive consultation with the local community.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.

Yours sincerely, (signature)
Hon Dan van Holst Pellekaan MP
Minister for Energy and Mining"

Second letter on this subject to Minister van Holst Pellekaan

The following email was sent on 2019/06/17:
"Dan, I sent you an email asking questions about the proposed in-situ coal gasification back on 2019/02/20, to which I have not received a reply [A reply was sent – see above].

Since then there has been a further development. Yesterday, 2019/06/16, Lydia Lynch reported in the Brisbane Times that Queensland taxpayers were having to spend almost $31 million to clean up the pollution left by Linc Energy.

The article can be read at https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/taxpayers-fork-out-31-million-to-clean-up-toxic-coal-gasification-plant-20190614-p51xrb.html.

I would be very interested in hearing your opinion and the intentions of the Marshall Government on the disgusting and potentially environmentally disastrous Leigh Creek in-situ coal gasification proposal. All indications are that the project is at least as unconscionable as the Carmichael Mine and that the company involved is similar in its lack of ethical standards to Adani. Indeed, how could any company with ethical standards involve itself in something as unconscionable as in-situ gasification of coal?

I have written on the subject at https://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/CoalGasification.html

Regards, Dave Clarke"
I received an automatic response showing that my email had been received.

Reply from Minister Pellekaan, received 2019/07/06

(Translated from PDF to txt online using PDF2GO)
"Thank you for your email dated 17 June 2019 regarding your previous emails sent, on 20 February 2019, in addition to posing further questions relating to the Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) trials at Chinchilla, Queensland.

Of note, I am also responding to your email to the Minister of Environment and Water dated 22 June 2019, as this matter falls within my portfolio responsibilities.

Further to my response dated 11 March 2019 regarding carbon intensity and in—situ gasification (also known as UCG) at Leigh Creek, I can assure you that as a Government we are aware of the community's expectations that projects such as Leigh Creek Energy's (LCK) demonstration UCG project are subject to a stringent review, assessment and compliance monitoring process.

The Department for Energy and Mining (DEM) with co—regulators, the Department of Environment and Water (DEW) and the Environment Protection Authority South Australia (EPA), comprehensively assessed the technical and environmental risks associated with the LCK demonstration UCG project. In recognition of the sensitivity of the LCK proposal, the South Australian Government regulators sought additional advice from independent national and international UCG experts prior to granting each stage of the approval.

As part of its assessment; DEM closely liaised with the Queensland Government and undertook a site Visit with the EPA of the previous Linc Energy site at Chinchilla in late August 2017, in order to understand any potential environmental implications of the Linc Energy project in Queensland. Based on this visit and DEM‘s assessment of the facts underpinning the prosecution case, the South Australian Government concluded that the scenario at Chinchilla and that at Leigh Creek are vastly different.

These differences are detailed in section 5.2 of DEM's Assessment Report and are supported by the Government’s independent expert, Dr Gary Love, in his report provided in Appendix A. DEM’s Assessment Report can be downloaded from: http://www.enerqvmininq.sa.qov.au/_data/assetsjadf_file/0010/313687/20180418_-Summarv_of_Leiqh_Creek_Enerqv_|nformation.pdf

Both the independent experts and co-reguiators concluded that the LCK demonstration UCG project poses low environmental risks (including risks to water resources). Further details of the LCK demonstration UCG project approval are publicly available at: http://www.enerqvmininq.sa.qov.au/petroIeumlproiectslpri_Ieigh_creek_enerqv_isq.

Approval conditions for the now completed LCK demonstration UCG project required diligent risk mitigation, monitoring and reporting by LCK to demonstrate safe operating conditions are being adhered to. Furthermore, vigilant oversight by South Australia's regulator has ensured LCK deployed and maintained good industry practice throughout the demonstration UCG project.

LCK was and still is required to undertake considerable monitoring both on-site and in surrounding areas to ensure compliance with approvals and the safe operation of the site in relation to people and the environment.

Should LCK seek to enter into a new phase of operations they will be required to develop and submit a new application for assessment and review. This process will include comprehensive consultation with the local community and potential referral under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Thank you for your interest in this matter

Yours sincerely
Hon Dan van Holst Pellekaan MP
Minister for Energy and Mining"

Environmentally responsible governments?

The South Australian Rann Labor Government (2002-2011) and the following Weatherill Government (2011-2018) have received quite a bit of credit for the state's adoption of renewable energy, and it is true that unlike a number of other state and federal governments, they didn't oppose the development of renewable energy.

But the fact that the Weatherill Government encouraged fracking in South Eastern South Australia and supported the investigation of the possibility of ISCG in the Leigh Creek area suggest that the Weatherill Government at least may have been opportunistic rather than ethical.

So far as I know both Labor and Liberals have been comfortable with oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

It is noteworthy that the Liberal-National coalition Marshal Government passed a bill legislating a moratorium on fracking in the South East of South Australia in October 2018. Louise Horobin wrote an article in the Border Chronicle, 2018/10/26. She wrote "Limestone Coast Protection Alliance chairperson Angus Ralton congratulated the community and local politicians for continuing to fight for legislation reform." Mr Ralton was quoted as saying:

“This is a well deserved outcome for the community that has fought so hard. Thanks must go to our local independent MP, Troy Bell for moving this Bill and to Nick McBride for getting the Libs on board. We'd also like to thank Mark Parnell and fellow Greens in the Upper House as well as SA Best whose support was crucial in getting this Bill through.”

While there can be no doubt at all that the federal Liberal-National coalition governments of Prime Ministers Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison were anti-environment and pro-coal, while the federal Labor Opposition was more environmentally responsible, it would seem that the situation in South Australia is more open to question.


Related pages

On the Internet...

Queensland Government, Department of Environment and Science, 2018/01/23; following the liquidation of Linc Energy the Queensland Government was left with the task of cleaning up the mess made by Linc's efforts to develop ISCG in Queensland.

ABC: Controversial trial of banned gas technology [ISCG] gets tick of approval in South Australia, by Sarah Hancock and Camron Slessor, September 2018.
"A controversial trial for a highly polluting mining technology has been given the green light in South Australia, despite being banned in Queensland for what was described as the worst contamination in the state's history."

The Guardian: Queensland bans underground coal gasification [UCG, another name for in-situ coal gasification] over environmental risk, April 2016.
"Ban comes after UCG pilot company Linc Energy, which last week went into administration, was committed for trial for causing serious environmental harm."


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