Oppose the Leigh Creek UCG proposal!
The South Australian Labor Government, facing a March 2018 election, has just announced a public consultation on a proposal for an Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) project in Leigh Creek, Adnyamathanha Land.
The proposal suits the pro-mining stance of State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, a vocal supporter of the defeated Marathon Resources uranium mine in the Arkaroola Wilderness sanctuary, also on Adnyamathanha Land, and of the defeated nuclear waste dump.
Weatherill, from the so-called “Left” faction in the State ALP is quite adept at doing deals to keep the ALP Right on side.
What is UCG?
UCG is a process whereby coal seams are pumped with oxygen and set alight, deep underground, to release flammable gases which are captured and sold to energy users. It differs from “fracking”, the Coal Seam Gas process, which uses pressurised water to crack open rock deposits in order to release gas trapped in coal seams. In UCG, the gas does not exist, but must be produced by the coal burning process.
The process is not new. The method was discovered by a British chemist and welcomed by Lenin, in 1913, as a means of reducing electricity costs, eliminating hard and unhygienic mining labour and, under socialism, of making “it possible immediately to shorten the working day for all from 8 hours to, say, 7 hours and even less”. The British dropped the idea, but it was pioneered by the great Soviet chemist Dimitry Mendeleyev, with Stalin’s support. In the early 1930s, a UCG plant was operating in the Donetsk Basin but the method was never entirely successful and was eventually abandoned as too costly compared to extraction of natural gas.
The process of burning coal underground for gas is difficult to control and produces many by-products which are highly toxic. The gas contains carbon monoxide, benzene, toluene and other substances that are potentially toxic or carcinogenic. Gas processing, handling and transport in pipelines poses further risks to people and the environment. UCG is a fossil fuel technology and its advocacy flies in the face of the good work undertaken by the SA Labor government in support of renewable enerhy technologies.
Banned in Queensland
A 2004 CSIRO study concluded that “UCG as specified was not ideal as a low Greenhouse gas emission technology”, although it was “cleaner” than CSG extraction. It also found that “that the impact on water availability in the area will be noticeable, but not excessive” and that “Surface subsidence due to UCG is predicted to be relatively minor, with the maximum value being less than 0.5m.”
The CSIRO study was based around a scenario of a nominal 400MWe electricity generation plant based on UCG in the eastern Surat Basin in Queensland. The green light was given to proceed with the project, and two others in Queensland, yet they were disasters.
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.
Opposing the leigh Creek project
Leigh Creek Energy has been pushing the UCG project, trying to win over the State Government and the Adnyamathanha people. It gave a presentation to the Adnyamathanha last October, which led to fears by the community that areas of special significance could be damaged. Adnyamathanha elder Enice Marsh said the community wrote to the State Government just before Christmas to express its opposition but had received no response.
"We tried to write to them to ask for an independent survey on the land, to state the land of Leigh Creek and the coal fields are significant Aboriginal sites," she said.
"A lot of my people say it's their home, they're going to be faced with a huge, dangerous situation.
"The land has been used and abused for so long and it is now time to lay the land to rest and recover."
Communities must get organised
In the tradition of the best weasel words, Koutsantonis denies any decision has been made on the project.
"This project has not yet been approved and will not proceed unless approved," he said.
But we’ve seen the State Government flying kites like this in the past. Every kite is the same – unless it has been hauled down by community opposition, it keeps right on flying. And one-way, top-down community consultations were not allowed to stop the desalination plant nor the so-called “regulator” over the Finniss River at Clayton in 2009 on Ngarrindjeri Land.
Only a spirited campaign by unions and community organisations in an alliance with the traditional Adnyamathanha owners will prevent approval being given to this environmentally and socially damaging project.
That campaign must promote the unity of humanity and Nature and fight and oppose the ideology of seeking human victories over Nature in the pursuit of private profit. As Engels said in the Dialectics of Nature, for “each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first."
The activists of the working class must draw on the wisdom of First Nations peoples and use Nature sustainably and harmoniously. UCG does neither.
Fuelling the fire: The chequered history of Underground Coal Gasification and Coal Chemicals around the world