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'Lack of scrutiny' of Solid Energy's underground coal fire

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gareth Hughes
Gareth Hughes

It is unacceptable that Solid Energy's underground coal gasification project ? which involves lighting coal on fire underground - lacks independent monitoring, the Green Party said today.

Solid Energy announced yesterday that their $22 million underground coal gasification (UCG) pilot plant near Huntley is now operational. This means the company has set fire to a coal seam approximately 350 metres below ground in order to create synthetic gas.

"We think it is unacceptable that there is no independent monitoring of this dangerous new technique for exploiting coal in New Zealand," said Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

"The coal seam on fire at the UCG plant near Huntley is a mere 300 metres from the Tauranga Group aquifer, and the regional council is not testing this aquifer for contamination.

"The regulator of this pilot project ? Waikato Regional Council ? is entirely reliant on water quality data collected and collated by Solid Energy themselves.

"As we have seen in Australia, we can't count on industry to monitor itself rigorously and report when contamination happens."

In Australia, Carbon Energy Ltd. failed to notify authorities when it spilled toxic process water at its UCG plant in Queensland in 2009. A second UCG plant in Queensland was forced to shut in July of last year, when cancer-causing chemicals were found in nearby groundwater.

"The UCG process is clearly risky and yet the New Zealand public has been denied its say on the implementation of this experimental technology near Huntley," said Mr Hughes.

The consents for Solid Energy's UCG proposal were non-notified.

"The public should be given access to all the information about these risky energy techniques and allowed a say," said Mr Hughes.

"New Zealand doesn't need to resort to high risk technologies like underground coal gasification, which could wreck our clean green brand, when we have a wealth of smart green renewable energy opportunities that will deliver real prosperity."

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