Wyoming environmental council will review coal gasification plans

November 6, 2013

Australia-based Linc Energy has proposed plans to experiment with its underground coal gasification technique in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Those plans will be reviewed by The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council.

The Associated Press reported that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has deemed the company's application technically complete but environmental concerns by the Powder River Basin Resource Council sent the license before the seven-member Environmental Quality Council before it can move forward.

The concerns surround ground water at the Fort Union Aquifer, which supplies water to Gillette and Sheridan, said Shannon Anderson, a resource council attorney.

The Department of Environmental Quality spent a year reviewing the application. The agency wouldn't have deemed it technically complete or forwarded it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act if Linc's proposal would cause problems, said Nancy Nuttbrock, administrator of the department's Land Quality Division.

Linc Energy did not comment to The Associated Press for the story, however, the company’s website says its underground coal gasification technique promises cleaner and less expensive energy than importing foreign oil.

Linc first developed its process in the Soviet Union. Linc is majority owner of a facility in Uzbekistan that has been in operation for more than 50 years and is the world's only commercial underground coal gasification plant, according to the company.

The process involves pumping air into a coal seam. Oxidation turns the coal into synthesis gas containing carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane and water. The syngas pumped out of another area of the coal seam can be used as fuel or as part of industrial processes.

Linc has experimented with a series of progressively more advanced coal gasification plants in Australia. The UCG Demonstration Gasifier 6 Project in Wyoming would tap the 24-to-30-ft-thick Wyodak coal seam 1,100 ft underground to produce 1 million cuft of syngas per day.

According to the company's application, the demonstration project would consume between 1,008 and 2,020 tons of coal.

Underground coal gasification offers a use for Wyoming coal besides burning it in power plants, which faces increased regulatory pressure as the EPA attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ground subsidence can occur as a result of underground coal gasification but not digging the coal up generally avoids the problems and expenses of mine reclamation.

Linc's project would be unlike anything Wyoming's coal country has seen for decades.

In the 1970s, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory experimented with underground coal gasification in the basin under a U.S. Department of Energy contract. The Hoe Creek project gasified about 6,500 tons of coal in three phases in 1976, 1977 and 1979.

Ground water testing afterward revealed contaminants, including benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene at the Hoe Creek site. Aquifer restoration work began in 1989 and was deemed complete last year, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

The Department of Energy's estimated cleanup costs were $10 million.


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