Write on: Letters to the editor

May 8, 2010

Underground Coal Gasification

As the head of Linc Energy, a world leader in Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) technology, I wish to correct some references to 2001 US Department of Energy (DOE) report in relation to UCG in Renfrey Clarke’s article “SA Labor backs UCG Coal Scheme” (GLW #835).

The report in question did not provide an assessment of UCG derived syngas in its life cycle analysis of Fischer-Tropsch clean fuels. It was referencing surface gasification in “traditional underground/open cut coal mining”, where the coal was mined and then gasified in a very large, purpose-built plant.

Fuel from Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is exceptionally clean. Diesel engines in general have demonstrated emissions efficiency advantages of between 20-40% over gasoline fuelled vehicles.

Claims that the use of UCG diesel would delay the introduction of electric vehicles, thereby causing much higher greenhouse gas emissions are also wrong.

The way electricity is currently generated in Australia, principally by coal fired power stations, would mean more greenhouse gas emissions are produced in order to run electric vehicles than conventional ones.

The article failed to mention that using syngas generally requires treating the gas to remove CO2. This is inbuilt into any gas-to-liquids process that relies on syngas from coal, and potentially could easily be sequestered back into the UCG cavity in a far more efficient manner than any other current sequestration process. We are currently addressing these issues, as are many other countries.

Our ability to produce abundant energy for power generation or gas-to-liquids clean fuels, and in particular jet fuel, is a genuine and far superior alternative to straight coal-fired power generation — and with CO2 sequestration, the emissions footprint is much lower than even natural gas or traditional oil refinery business.

UCG is one option available that needs to be properly understood and appreciated, not poorly represented with irrelevant facts.

Peter Bond
CEO, Linc Energy

Fuel addiction

Petroleum executives assure us that their giant tankers and offshore oil rigs pose no danger to the environment; coal company CEOs insist that their mines are safe and that blasting off mountaintops is ecologically benign; natural gas companies claim that “fracking” deep underground geological formations will not contaminate fresh water aquifers; and nuclear power promoters tell us not to worry about core meltdowns or the disposal of millions of tons of highly radioactive waste.

Just last year BP — who now insist BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum” — told the government that an oil spill like the one wreaking havoc in the Gulf was highly unlikely, so they didn’t need to install remote-controlled valves that could prevent an uncontrolled blowout. Beyond Petroleum? More like Beyond Belief.

According to the watchdog group, Public Citizen, BP has the worst criminal rap sheet of any oil company — and that’s no mean feat. In the last few years, BP has paid $485 million in fines and settlements to the US government.

As BP’s massive oil slick smothers the Gulf’s fragile wetland ecosystems and lays waste to the fishing and tourist industries, their assurances of safety are like the sworn testimony of a career criminal.

The same goes for Massey Coal Company — the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia. Massey insisted its Montcoal operation was safe right up to the day when their mine exploded, killing 29 people.

Last year, the number of citations issued against the mine more than doubled and the penalties levied against Massey more than tripled. Since the explosion, federal inspectors have found over 60 serious safety violations at Massey facilities.

Yet, after the explosion, Massey CEO Don Blankenship told Metronews radio that the Mine Safety and Health Administration would never have allowed the mine to operate if it had been unsafe.

Fossil fuel addiction is distorting our judgment. Unless we come to our senses soon, we will have sacrificed the planet to feed our addiction.

Craig Collins, Ph.D.
California State University East Bay

West Papua

While on his recent visit to Australia, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a plea for better relations between Australia and Indonesia. This is a reasonable objective, but not at the expense of Australia covering up, excusing, condoning or abetting human rights violations and repression in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, the Indonesian army has a long, sordid history of abuses and other appalling actions in East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere. The same brutal policies Indonesia pursued in East Timor in the past are the strategies the Indonesian army is carrying out in West Papua.

For 24 years, successive Australian governments used this silent approach, pretending that there were no problems in East Timor. Meanwhile the Indonesian army engaged in the cruelest of methods to crush East Timorese opposition. Massacres and suppression failed though and the Timorese people continued to resist.

Eventually Australia was forced to act, due partly to the overwhelming pressure by Australians for an end to the occupation and for a peaceful and just solution in East Timor.

Seeking favour with Indonesia by acting as if everything is fine in West Papua ultimately will also fail. The West Papuan issue and the struggle for their people’s rights won’t go away. Australians should not allow our governments to once again blindly accept what is happening there.

Better relations and cooperation requires mutual trust and honesty. The region’s rich resources of timber and minerals are being plundered, but West Papua is the poorest area in Indonesia, with the native population getting little benefit.

These are real difficulties that need attention if Indonesia wants to improve its image and relations, mere words are not enough to make things right.

Steven Katineris,
Hurstbridge, Vic.

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