Communities fear a repeat of previous UCG disasters will desecrate land
By Eve Sinton
Fossil Fool Bulletin 1.41 • 11 September 2018
Traditional owners and environmentalists have launched a last-ditch effort to prevent Leigh Creek Energy’s underground coal gasification (UCG) project from going ahead in South Australia.
Last week the Adnyamathanha people applied for a Supreme Court injunction to halt the project, on the grounds it should not have been approved by Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan.
The matter was due to return to court on Monday (September 10). The outcome was unknown by FFB’s publication deadline.
Meanwhile, representatives of Flinders Ranges communities and supporters, coordinated by the William Light Foundation, sent an open letter to the Premier of South Australia, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Steven Marshall. They asked for the government to cease all further UCG approvals and put an end to the practice.
“We stand together to defend the communities, the environment and sacred sites of the Flinders Ranges on behalf of generations to come,” the communities said.
Sacred site must be protected
“We do not accept that the profits of Leigh Creek Energy or any UCG company outweigh the serious offence of desecration of a registered Aboriginal Heritage site.
“The Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob Elders who are responsible for Aboriginal Heritage site protection demand an immediate end to all mining activities at the protected Yurlu’s Coal site, and call for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation to show proper and lawful adherence to the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. The longstanding Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob complaint concerning alleged breaches and unlawful damage to the site must be responded to immediately.
“We do not accept the risks imposed by UCG to the land or to the health and wellbeing of life in the Flinders Ranges for generations to come. We defend the right of Adnyamathanha people to access their birthplaces, burial grounds and sacred sites, and to eat from the land without concern of mining contamination,” they said.
The Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association says they were not properly consulted about the UCG project.
Senior traditional owner Vince Coulthard said the site held important significance to yulu, the Kingfisher Man, one of the major creation ancestors of the Adnyamathanha people.
Linc Energy disaster could be repeated
The project involves the same technology, and some of the same people, involved in Queensland’s largest ever pollution event. When Linc Energy’s Hopeland project went rogue, 320 square kilometres of farmland was declared a hazard-zone.
The pollution is irreversible and long-term effects, such as soil acidification, are still to emerge. Remediation attempts will cost taxpayers millions, but the land can’t be returned to its original state.
Linc Energy was found guilty on five charges of deliberately and willfully causing environmental harm and fined $4.5 million. As the company is in liquidation, the fine will never be paid.
Five Linc Energy directors, including former chief Peter Bond, still face criminal charges from the event.
Former Linc executive, Justyn Peters, who has not been charged over the disaster, is now executive chairman of Leigh Creek Energy. The company was formerly known as Marathon Resources.
Like a bad zombie movie
It was the subject of withering criticicm in the SA Parliament in 2016, when Greens MC, Mark Parnell, said:
“Like a bad zombie movie, the undead have come back to haunt us. Members will remember Marathon Resources Limited. That is the cowboy mining company that was sent packing from the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary five years ago after trashing the natural environment. They are back. Quietly rebranded as Leigh Creek Energy Limited, they now want to get into the UCG business.”
Parnell went on to say, “I do note that the Leigh Creek project does involve people who are involved in the Queensland Linc Energy project … top of the list is Mr Justyn Peters, whose title is executive chairman. His profile includes that he was a former experienced senior manager with Linc Energy. …
“The South Australian government needs to pay attention not just to what companies claim they are going to achieve and what they claim is their environmental performance, but have a look at who they are, what they have done, and have a look at how these projects have ended up interstate, because they have ended up in tears.”
Despite the warnings, the SA government has chosen to believe Leigh Creek Energy’s assertion that their project, at an old coal mine, is not comparable to Linc’s process, nor that of other Queensland failures by Cougar Energy and Carbon Energy (see table).
Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan has given successive approvals to Leigh Creek Energy for a trial of UCG without an independent expert review.
The William Light Foundation says independent hydrogeologists, Professor Gavin Mudd and Doctor Matthew Currell, have identified serious risks to groundwater in the Flinders Ranges.
They advised the Foundation that faults and multiple existing drill holes present an unacceptable likelihood of gas or fluid migration through the aquifer system which could lead to uncontrolled combustion and irreparable groundwater contamination.
Report details extensive risks
The Foundation has drawn the government’s attention to a Scottish government report by Professor Campbell Gemmell which clearly outlines the extensive risks to the environment.
These include large number of hazardous water-borne contaminants identified during different UCG operations conducted so far, including the organic pollutants phenols, benzene with its derivatives, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocycles, ammonia, mercury, zinc, sulphates, cyanides and other heavy metals.
“The LCKE three month trial project alone anticipates the use of 1,000,000 litres of diesel and up to 1.6 million litres of water. This is unacceptable,” the Foundation said.
The William Light Foundation’s letter demnded that the South Australian Government cease all further approvals of UCG and put an end to Underground Coal Gasification:
We urge you the Premier to show positive and progressive leadership and
• show proper and and lawful adherence to the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act and cease mining on registered Aboriginal Heritage Sites
• call for the Department of Environment and Water to fully investigate and report on the impacts of pollutants of the CSG industry
• call for the Department of Health and Wellbeing to fully investigate and report on the health impacts of the CSG industry on communities and industry workers
• call for a complete review of the failure of the Department of Energy and Mining in approving a UCG operation with such enormous social, cultural and environmental risks.