Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Vote on Bill to ban underground coal gasification

October 18th, 2017

On the 18th of October 2017, Mark brought his Bill to ban underground coal gasification (UCG), Petroleum & Geothermal Energy (Underground Coal Gasification) Amendment Bill 2016, to a vote.

The Greens were the only Party in the South Australian Parliament to support the Bill, and so the Bill was defeated.

The following is a transcript of the debate in the Legislative Council. Mark's second reading speech introducing the Bill on November 30 2016 can be read here.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I rise on behalf of Liberal members to oppose the bill moved by the Hon. Mr Parnell. The carriage of this legislation has rested with our shadow minister, the member for Stuart, and his advice to our party room is that whilst the Liberal Party has announced a policy of a 10-year moratorium on fracking in the South-East, our policy was specifically confined to that region—for reasons which have been well enunciated on previous occasions in both houses—and was confined to that particular technology.

The member for Stuart advises that the Hon. Mr Parnell's bill is much broader in scope. Firstly, it applies statewide rather than in just one particular location, such as the South-East. The bill also refers to a different technology in the provisions in his legislation. Whilst I am advised that the bill applies to the whole state, it appears, through the member's comments in his second reading contribution, that it is specifically targeting Leigh Creek Energy's proposal for an underground coal gasification project near Leigh Creek.

As I said earlier, the Hon. Mr Parnell's bill is proposing a statewide ban, and the member for Stuart advises that not only is it a statewide ban but that the Hon. Mr Parnell is also endeavouring to retrospectively apply it to all existing licences, and also proposes that no compensation be paid to those who might be affected by the bill. It is for those reasons that the Liberal Party has taken the position that it cannot and will not be supporting the honourable member's legislation.

The Hon. T.T. NGO: In response to the honourable member's motion to introduce an amendment bill to ban underground coal gasification in South Australia, I stress that it is not this government's intention to politicise any approval processes regarding coal gasification—or any other regulated activity, for that matter. The current legislation processes under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 are recognised for their robust and rigorous environmental impact assessments that will deliver an approval decision based on well-grounded facts and science.

At this point in time no approval or application for approval has yet been made to undertake any underground coal gasification( or UCG) testing in this state. The current work that is being carried out in relation to the UCG is routine appraisal drilling by Leigh Creek Energy, after having received approval under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 to conduct standard exploration drilling to evaluate the geological and geotechnical nature of the coal resource. Through these routine exploration activities, detailed information and analysis will be assembled to enable an informed fact-based decision to be made on any prospects for approving any additional work that may need to be undertaken to evaluate our UCG potential in this location.

This amendment bill is not only unnecessary but goes against the fundamental principle of the 9009 regulation, which is to afford due process to all stakeholders, including the party proposing the activity. Simply banning without an opportunity to consider the facts and science is not only bad regulation but, more importantly, an unjustified indictment to procedural fairness, something that this government would never entertain.

Therefore, this government opposes any amendment, such as this one, that undermines the state's commitment to open, transparent and evidence-based regulatory decision-making that balances the costs and benefits of proposals on a case-by-case basis on the grounds of facts and science, not speculative assessment. Therefore, the government opposes this bill.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to sum up the debate on this. This has been on the agenda for a little while, and I want to put on the record some new developments that have occurred. Before I do that, I will just respond briefly to the not unexpected reactions of both the opposition and the government to this bill. I thank the Hon. Rob Lucas and the Hon. Tung Ngo for their contributions, but I am disappointed in the content of what they had to say.

The Hon. Rob Lucas, I understand, is representing his colleague Mr Dan van Holst Pellekaan, the shadow minister for mining, but as I listened to his contribution, it struck me that there was a certain desperation in it. What I mean by that is the straw that broke the camel's back for the opposition not to support this bill was the fact that it was retrospective and there would be no compensation, then a small amount of time later, we had the Hon. Tung Ngo reminding us all that no-one is doing this and there are no applications to do it. The retrospectivity and compensation have no work to do. No-one has applied, no-one is doing it, no-one is going to get compensated, so it is a pretty thin straw that has broken this camel's back.

The Hon. Rob Lucas in his contribution did make the important distinction that underground coal gasification is very different from fracking. It is an entirely different process. It is a process that, as I have pointed out before, has been banned in a number of other jurisdictions on account of it being so polluting and so dangerous, so the question that arises for our state is: why on earth would we give succour to companies that want to bring this dirty polluting technology to South Australia when we have the ability to give them an early no via this legislation?

The Hon. Tung Ngo talks about open, transparent and evidence-based processes. How much more evidence does the government want? When I introduced this bill, I put a bucketload of evidence on the table as to why this technology has been banned in some places and is increasingly being banned elsewhere.

Let's go through some of the recent developments. I am not going to re-agitate older material. In the last year, first of all, the United Kingdom government said that they do not support this technology. They commissioned a report that, not surprisingly, came up with the same conclusion as the report written by Mr Campbell Gemmell, the former chief of the Environment Protection Authority in South Australia. The report he wrote for the Scottish parliament basically said—this is the very summarised executive summary—'Don't do it.' That is a three-word slogan, so we must be coming up to an election. 'Just don't do it.' That is four words.

The UK Guardian, under the headline 'Underground coal gasification will not go ahead in UK' says, and I quote:

A highly polluting method of extracting gas has been effectively killed off in the UK after the government said it would not support the technology.

Underground coal gasification (UCG), which involves injecting oxygen and steam underground to release gas from coal seams, would massively increase UK carbon emissions if exploited, according to a government-commissioned report.

The review by consultants Atkins said if power stations used gas from the method, it would be 40-100% dirtier in terms of CO2 emissions than burning gas from the North Sea and imports. Exploiting all the UK’s coal reserves would release the equivalent of 24 years of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

It goes on. It is not going to happen in the UK. It has been officially banned in Scotland.

On 9 February this year, it was discovered that contamination from the disastrous Linc Energy underground coal gasification plant in Hopeland, Queensland, was proved to be far more extensive that originally thought. You can find these articles on the ABC's website, for example. Later, in a follow-up article, the government was expanding the area of contamination, what they are calling their 'excavation caution zone'. The danger zone was 314 square kilometres and they are expanding that even further. I gave some of the evidence last time but there was all manner of soil contamination, water contamination, and gases at explosive levels near the surface. Basically it was a disaster in Queensland and it would be a disaster here if we let it go ahead.

Still from Queensland, back in June it was revealed that the bill to clean the land allegedly contaminated—not allegedly, it was contaminated by Linc Energy—had risen to over $38 million. That is the clean-up bill. For goodness sake, why do we want to encourage this industry in our state? Eventually the Queensland government, they had been promising it for awhile, but back on 24 August this year, the Queensland Labor government—no enemy of gas, think of where the fracking is happening, think of all the protests, you think Queensland—legislated to ban underground coal gasification. My bill would have achieved the same thing here. Then you fast forward to last month, 12 September, and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published a report explaining how coal to gas technology for electricity generation is still not commercially viable and they used examples from the US.

If neither the government nor the opposition is prepared to support this legislation, the only salvation might be that it does not add up financially, shareholders lose some money and everyone walks away, but that does not cover us in glory for that to be the response. I think we should be taking the responsible position and banning this legislation now.

In the most recent news reports, in The Advertiser and elsewhere this month, we have a number of Aboriginal groups that are very concerned about this technology and they want to see it banned. I particularly acknowledge the work of Enice Marsh and she has written to be on a number of occasions and has emphasised that the Anggumathanha Camp Law Mob and also the Adnyamathanha Yura Language and Heritage Association basically are dead against this technology. They do not want the Leigh Creek energy project to go ahead. They want underground coal gasification banned. Not surprisingly, there are a number of traditional owners who are not on email so I have asked who else in that community might not have emailed or written to me and, again, Enice Marsh has emailed me back saying:

…so many Aboriginal people are very scared about this dangerous type of mining on this fragile and sacred land.

She mentions two families, traditional owners, the Coulthards and the Bradys:

The Coulthard family is my late brother Gilbert's family who fought very hard on the Arkaroola Mt Gee issue with your help and support. Linda, Gilbert's widow is aged in her 70s, and along with her adult children speak out very strongly against the UCG, with the support of the wider community in Copley and Leigh Creek.

I will continue to support my Adnyamathanha people at all times on any issues concerning dangerous interruption happening on our sacred land.

With Grateful Thanks,

Enice Marsh

There are some Aboriginal people there; there are even more whose names I do not know. This issue is certainly creating a lot of anxiety in Aboriginal communities and in the wider community at Leigh Creek and Copley. Certainly, Cameron England, I think it was last week or the week before, reported on some legal action that is potentially pending. I know that the Aboriginal groups are not happy with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs because it is an Aboriginal heritage issue for them.

I can see where the numbers lie in relation to this Bill and it is very disappointing. I think the record will show that if underground coal gasification goes any further in this state, if experience elsewhere is any guide, we will rue the day. It will cost us money. It will cost us polluted land and polluted water. It is a disaster at every level. I for one am not happy just to put my trust in the market to sort these things out. I think the government should show leadership; I think the opposition should as well.

Losing the seat of Mount Gambier was obviously weighing heavily on their minds in terms of fracking in the South-East. Maybe they feel the northern areas are little bit more secure and they do not need to worry so much about what people up there think. Regardless of the politics, I am very disappointed that neither party will be supporting this legislation.

printer friendly version

Get email updates