Completed exploration drill holes are shown in dark green.
Completed exploration drill holes are shown in dark green.

Coal find fuels fear over water

A RESOURCES company searching north of Warwick for coal suitable for an underground gas production trial similar to one which contaminated bore water at Kingaroy has reported positive drilling results in the Allora and Goomburra districts.

Clean Global Energy, which has an exploration permit covering more than 450 square kilometres, has told shareholders the first stage of its drilling program has confirmed that local coal seams “appear suitable for underground coal gasification (UCG)”.

The company's latest quarterly report states stage one drilling is “nearing completion”, with samples comparable to “some UCG sites in the former Soviet Union which have been running successfully since the mid 1950s”.

Sydney-based Clean Global Energy now plans to apply for a full-blown Mineral Development Lease which would allow it to establish a trial coal gas plant, potentially close to or within Allora's aquifer, which supplies the town with its household water.

But its report tactfully concedes that “given the recent events in Queensland, we believe the approval process ... may take some time”.

Allora farmers who spoke to the Daily News yesterday and who wished to remain anonymous expressed deep concern about Clean Global Energy's latest report, saying its drilling had been carried out in some of the region's – if not Queensland's – finest agricultural lands.

The landowners said drilling rigs had been observed in locations within the groundwater zone which supplies Allora households, including near the Kital Road bridge over Dalrymple Creek and on Ghost Gate Road.

“We are concerned about any exploration or gas trials in the Goomburra Valley or near Allora, both from a farming point of view and from a water safety point of view for the town (of Allora),” one landowner said.

Underground or aquifer water sources which supply Allora are known as the Dalrymple Creek Alluvium, with the creek having its source in the Goomburra State Forest to the east and joining the Condamine River west of Allora at Talgai.

The Clean Gobal Energy announcement comes as furore continues at Kingaroy over the State Government's closure last month of a UCG trial plant operated by Cougar Energy.

The trial was halted after testing found traces of the cancer-causing toxins benzene and toluene – which occur naturally in coal deposits – had shown up in nearby water bores.

A government official was stood down for not acting quickly enough on the find and Cougar Energy sacked 20 of its own employees.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management yesterday stated the levels of contamination at Kingaroy were lower than first thought, but farmers there are still banned from using bore water from within a two-kilometre radius of the trial plant.

Other resources firms – Carbon Energy and Linc Energy – which have UCG trial plants at Chinchilla where contamination concerns have also been aired have been directed to perform environmental evaluations.

UCG involves the drilling of deep connecting wells in coal seams and igniting the coal at extreme temperatures underground to release gas which can be converted into fuel energy at the surface.

The technology is not widely used overseas and a trial at Hoe Creek in the US state of Wyoming as far back as the mid 1970s was scrapped after benzene was found in nearby aquifers supplying local drinking water.

Decontamination work was required and the site was later abandoned altogether.

Clean Global Energy executive chairman and managing director John Harkins yesterday declined to confirm specific drilling sites, but mapping freely available online (re-produced above) shows completed drilling locations close to Allora both to the east and south and at Goomburra and Clintonvale.

Mr Harkins moved to assure Southern Downs residents and farmers the firm would “engage in consultation” about its plans.

“We are long way off a UCG trial and we would have to do a major hydrological study before it could happen,” he said.

“We are very conscious of the quality of the farming land in that area.

“From a drinking supply perspective any amounts of these materials (benzene and toluene) would be well within safety guidelines. They are found in all coal deposits – if you have an open-cut mine and a downpour there would be levels of these materials found downstream.”

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UCG, It's a gas...

  • UCG involves the drilling of two linked wells into a coal deposit and igniting the coal deep underground – air is pumped into one of the wells and coal gas extracted from the other, which can then be turned into fuel
  • At several sites, including Kingaroy and in the US, toxins released by the underground burning have been forced under pressure into nearby water aquifers
  • The maximum penalty for causing serious environmental harm is more than $2 million for a company and more than $400,000 or five years' imprisonment for an individual

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