Legislative Council

QUESTION: Underground Coal Gasification

November 1st, 2016

On 1st November 2016, Mark asked the Minister for Climate Change a question about underground coal gasification (UCG).

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Last month, the former chief executive of the South Australian EPA, Professor Campbell Gemmell, prepared a report for the Scottish government about underground coal gasification. Whilst he now lives primarily in Scotland, Campbell Gemmell retains his links to our state as an adjunct professor at the University of South Australia. Professor Gemmell reviewed the UCG industry and the various demonstration, pilot and operational sites in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, South Africa, Spain, the USA and Uzbekistan.

In his report, he highlights the environmental concerns including air quality, waste and water issues, the local blight and reputational risk amongst other issues. Professor Gemmell recommended that Scotland's moratorium on UCG be maintained, or alternatively that Scotland follow the lead of the Queensland government in Australia and ban the practice of UCG into the foreseeable future. Last month, the government of Scotland accepted Professor Gemmell's advice and banned UCG in its jurisdiction.

The relevance of this to South Australia is twofold. Firstly, the UCG industry is being actively promoted by the South Australian government which has issued preliminary drilling licences to Leigh Creek Energy Ltd, which members will recall is the successor to the infamous Marathon Resources which was sent packing after trashing the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary; but secondly, and directly relevant to the minister's climate change portfolio, is at the Scottish government was motivated by a desire to not undermine Scotland's perceived leadership in climate change management. This is the same leadership that South Australia claims in this country.

Exploiting dirty coal deposits through risky and polluting technologies was seen to be a backward step in decarbonising the Scottish economy and meeting its climate change targets, and that is why they banned it. My question of the minister is: what steps is he taking as climate change minister to pull his other ministerial colleagues into line and prevent underground coal gasification from trashing South Australia's environmental reputation by unnecessarily exacerbating dangerous and irreversible climate change?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) : I thank the honourable member for his most important question which, try as he might to direct to me as the responsible portfolio minister, falls fairly and squarely under the ministerial portfolios of another minister in the other place.

However, can I just say this? In quoting some sources from Scotland about their desire to not be seen as resiling from their clean and green image, don't forget that in saying they do not want to be involved in underground coal gasification projects because of that image, they also fall back on their grid and the Scottish grid, like the UK grid in general, has a backbone of nuclear energy. So, if the honourable member is saying that we should have nuclear energy plants in South Australia, to avoid the need for underground coal gasification—
The Hon. M.C. Parnell: Listen to your former EPA boss.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Yes. Well, in fact, I would rather listen to myself, thank you very much. It is much more informative.
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: You'd be the only one.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, you know, that is why some people need to take on these responsibilities themselves. I am very happy for the member to try that angle. It is a question best directed to the minister in the other place, and if he is going to quote these sources from Scotland in terms of their idealism, he needs to be quite up and open about that with us, about how their electricity grid is actually underpinned. It is actually underpinned by another source which I believe his party opposes as well.

So, if he wants people to go cold turkey on renewables, that is the position of the Greens. The position of the Liberal Party, of course, is that we actually go all the way with the coal. The Labor Party has a much more nuanced response. We are driving towards renewables, but in a responsible way, using gas as a stepping stone.

As the Liberal government in Canberra has signed the road map to decarbonisation, which means that all states are going to have to decarbonise their electricity grid systems, every single state has to deliver for the federal government's international treaty obligation they signed in Paris. That is what we are pursuing—a responsible way to get to zero net emissions by 2050—without the need for nuclear power stations, which the Hon. Mr Mark Parnell has been advocating in his question.

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