Greens SA question wisdom of CSG for Leigh Creek

In the wake of a meeting with representatives of the Leigh Creek and Copley Communities, Greens SA Leader Mark Parnell asks why this dangerous and dirty technology has reached near final approval stage in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

Mark Parnell, Greens MLC (ABC NORTH & WEST 8.35-8.41)

Possibility of underground coal gasification projects at Leigh Creek

Culliver ABC: Well you may know that Leigh Creek since the coal mine shutdown …
looking for another industry to keep the town alive, to stop it becoming … a town
with nothing to do. Leigh Creek Energy has been pursuing plans to gasify the coal
there but there’s been a lot of concern over that considering what happened in
Queensland, which … went wrong and led to some environmental issues as a result. So where’s it at?

Well Mark Parnell is a Greens Member … and recently been in Leigh Creek.

Patrick Martin spoke to him and asked him what’s he doing there.

I’ve been in Leigh Creek talking to local residents about what they think of
underground coal gasification. It’s not a process that most people have heard of
before unless they follow the news from Queensland where underground coal
gasification caused massive environmental harm … in fact it’s been banned in
Queensland, but in South Australia a company called Leigh Creek Energy wants to institute the same type of process in the old coal mine … locals are very worried. They’re worried that the same environmental damage that happened in
Queensland could happen in Leigh Creek as well.

Martin ABC: What is your understanding of the current process that’s underway at Leigh
Creek with Leigh Creek Energy?

I think a lot of people have been taken by surprise because there was a thought
about that this project wouldn’t see the light of day. It just seemed so ludicrous to be trying to set fire to the coal seam under the ground and extract the gas. We saw what happened in Queensland. Most people thought it would never happen in South Australia but the Mining Department continues to issue permits for a trial; there’s been two permits been issued so far and there’s a third yet to come.
So people now realise that this is serious… the locals in Leigh Creek are telling me that they’re desperately worried about the pollution impact, they’re worried about the health and they’re worried about the long term impact on their country, especially the Adnyamathanha people, who are dead against this project. So underground coal gasification is something that’s new to South Australia, been banned in Queensland and what the Greens will be doing is pushing to have it banned here as well. It’s just not worth the risk.

Martin: Leigh Creek Energy have said that the process is safe and they’re
obviously still waiting on further approvals to continue their processes, what would
you like to see happen here?

Well I’d like to put the company out of their misery straight away and the State
Government say that they’re not going to approve underground coal gasification.
It’s been banned in Queensland, it’s been banned in Scotland and in England and a number of places around the world; it is a really dodgy, polluting and dangerous technology that really has no part to play in South Australia’s energy future. I think most people realise that the future of energy is going to be renewable it’s not going to be trying to extract that last bit of fossil fuel from the ground.

The Queensland experience tells us that this can go terribly wrong. It’s just not
worth the risk and the people of Leigh Creek certainly made that loud and clear to me when I visited this week. (Martin: The people of Leigh Creek and surrounding towns have certainly struggled since the closure of the coal mine there wouldn’t this give them a fantastic employment opportunity if it was to get off the ground?

The people of Leigh Creek are keen to get new economic opportunities. The people that I’ve spoken to see tourism as a possible lifeline … I can certainly understand why some people are looking at you know any job that might come along but really what you’ve got to look at is the technology that’s being proposed and how that has played out in other places … when you look at what happened in Queensland the single biggest pollution incident in that state’s history, the company has been prosecuted and fined millions of dollars, the directors of the company have been prosecuted for environmental harm, it has just absolutely ended in tears in Queensland.

That’s not the sort of jobs that the people of Leigh Creek are looking
for; they want long term sustainable jobs that are good for the environment not jobs that wreck the environment.

Culliver ABC: That’s Mark Parnell, Greens Member of the Legislative Council speaking to ABC’s Patrick Martin. We reached out for an interview with Leigh Creek Energy. They were not available however we did receive a statement from Phil Staveley, who is the Managing Director of that company. He says,

“Leigh Creek Energy’s committed to supporting communities in the Upper Spencer Gulf and Far North. Leigh Creek and Copley townships will play an important role in Leigh Creek’s energy project operation’s ultimate success and thus a vested interest in the economic development, rejuvenation and environmental sustainability for its local people.”

“While we acknowledge Greens SA Parliamentary Leader Mark Parnell’s interest in Leigh Creek and the surrounding region Leigh Creek Energy has a sound
understanding of community sentiment and the support of the town’s revival. Leigh Creek Energy also acknowledges its success relies heavily following through the commitments we’ve made in the statement of environment objectives, fulfilling the State Government’s strict environmental and approval and monitoring scheme. We look forward to continue work with regulators and engaging with locals and providing our worth bringing prosperity back to the Leigh Creek and Copley townships.”

The Managing Director in text messages with me indicated that he wants to
improve his relationships with the media, however we’ve put two requests in in the last I think it’s about a month, possibly six weeks and he hasn’t been available to speak to us yet, but certainly if Phil Staveley or anyone else from Leigh Creek Energy would like to make themselves available to speak to us on the radio we would welcome that. That’s something that we want to do, but as yet that hasn’t come about.

Cover  image courtesy Illawarra Mercury media