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With coal gasification project about to be begin, Wyoming wants answers on problems with Australia project

First Published Apr 21 2014 06:55 pm • Last Updated Apr 21 2014 09:53 pm

Cheyenne, Wyo. • State officials say they have requested details of alleged environmental problems that a company proposing to experiment with underground coal gasification in Wyoming caused with a similar project in Australia.

Officials in Queensland state, Australia, recently accused Linc Energy of causing "serious environmental harm" at an underground coal gasification plant near the town of Chinchilla. The allegations followed a nine-month investigation, according to an April 11 release from the Queensland government.

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The release didn’t explain what happened but said there was no immediate risk to water wells on neighboring property. A Queensland spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking more details.

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality officials have reached out to Queensland officials to find out what occurred, department spokesman Keith Guille said Monday.

"We would certainly be interested in what the outcome is," Guille said.

In the meantime, he said, the accusations won’t affect the state approval process for the company’s proposed coal gasification project in Wyoming.

Linc officials said they dispute the Australia allegations and will contest them.

In Wyoming, the company proposes to burn up to 2,000 tons of coal reserves near Wright to produce several gases including methane. The gas would be pumped from the ground as the coal burns without being removed from the ground.

Before the project could begin, Wyoming and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials would need to approve reclassifying 80 acres of the Fort Union Aquifer beneath the project site.

Wyoming officials support the change, but the EPA has not signed off on the reclassification.

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Last month, Gov. Matt Mead met with Linc officials at a coal technology conference during a trip to Australia. Mead remains interested in coal gasification, his spokesman Renny MacKay said.

"If it works as they say it will, it can add value to Wyoming’s coal," MacKay said.

Wyoming hasn’t had a coal gasification project since the late 1970s, when the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Hoe Creek project gasified some 6,500 tons of coal over three years.

The project contaminated the site with benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene and cost more than $10 million to clean up.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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