QUESTION: Suspension of UCG trial at Leigh Creek

During Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, representing the Minister for Energy and Mining about the suspension of Leigh Creek Energy's three month trial of underground coal gasification in order to reignite the coal seam underground. 

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Forty minutes ago, Leigh Creek Energy notified the Australian stock exchange of the failure of their gasification process as part of their precommercial trials of underground coal gasification at Leigh Creek. Apparently, the company wrote to the department on 5 November. It pointed out that the gases that were observed on 11 October were mainly air, nitrogen, oxygen, with some products of combustion—carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide—but they have only detected trace amounts of gasification products, being methane and carbon monoxide.

They then sought a suspension of their three-month trial, a suspension of four weeks, so they could try to reignite the coal seam under the ground. That was on 5 November. Two days later, on 7 November, under delegated authority, the director of Energy Resources with the Department for Energy and Mining approved that suspension. Today, at 2.20pm central time, the company notified the stock exchange.

My questions, which I would ask the minister to pass on to his colleague in another place, are:

1. Is the government undertaking any independent monitoring of pollution from this project or is it relying entirely on information it receives from the proponent?

2. What is the government's estimate of the quantity of greenhouse gases that have been or are being vented directly to the atmosphere in the absence of flaring?

3. Is the minister at all concerned that the company didn't notify the stock exchange for eight days after seeking permission for the extension?

4. When will the government realise that risky and polluting coal projects have no place in South Australia's renewable energy future?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment): I thank the honourable member for his ongoing extreme and enthusiastic interest in the Leigh Creek Energy Project. I will be very happy to take all of those questions on notice and refer them to the Minister for Energy and Mining in another place.

Response received on February 12, 2019

The Hon David Ridgway MLC: The Minister for Energy and Mining has advised:

1. In accordance with approvals, Leigh Creek Energy (LCE) is undertaking considerable monitoring both on-site and in surrounding areas to ensure the construction, operation and decommissioning of the underground coal gasification (UCG) demonstration plant is undertaken safely in relation to people and the environment. The fit-for-purpose monitoring programs measure air quality, water quality, soil vapours, temperature, pressure and surface/subsurface movement to ensure that identified risks are being appropriately monitored, meet established environmental objectives, and prompt corrective actions can be taken if necessary.

These monitoring programs have been reviewed and endorsed by the Department for Energy and Mining and relevant co-regulators including the Environment Protection Authority and Department for Environment and Water.

Dr Cliff Mallett, former CSIRO UCG research scientist, has also been engaged by the Department for Energy and Mining to provide independent advice and confirmation of the site suitability, fitness for purpose of the Groundwater and Soil Vapour Monitoring Plan to ensure the they adhere to good industry practice.

2. The quantity of greenhouse gasses vented to date is considered negligible.

3. Listed companies are required to provide continuous disclosure under the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) Listing Rule 3.1 to ensure the integrity and efficiency of the ASX market. While all companies operating in South Australia are expected to meet the obligations under the listing rules, compliance with this Listing Rule is a matter for the ASX.

4. Decisions on the approval or otherwise of projects administered under South Australia's Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 are guided by science after thorough and unbiased assessment by experts within the co-regulatory agencies.