Fuelling the fire: New coal technologies spell disaster for climate
25 july 2016 – A new report by Friends of the Earth International demonstrates how Underground Coal
Gasification (UCG) and Coal Chemical technologies threaten to destabilise the earth’s climate
and irreversibly damage local environments.
The report, launched today, comes in the wake of UCG being banned in Queensland, Australia. There is interest in and development of UCG in Europe, Russia, Canada, the US, China and India. It is currently under moratorium in Scotland. The report draws together evidence of UCG test projects over the last three decades and highlights how destructive UCG and Coal Chemicals are:
• Globally, Underground Coal Gasification could dramatically fuel climate change by potentially
creating an extra 1650 billion tonnes of CO2-four times the total amount that can be emitted if
the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change.
• Irreversible environmental damage has been done by Linc Energy’s recent Underground Coal
Gasification experiment in Queensland, Australia, prompting the Queensland government to
ban the technology.
• The US has been the testing ground for several UCG experiments that have resulted in long-
term contamination of groundwater.
• Coal-to-Chemicals, the process of converting coal into different gases, liquid fuels and chemical
products, have devastating impacts on local environments in South Africa and China with their
massive water, coal and energy consumption.
• Sasol’s Coal Chemical plants in South Africa every year produces 35 million cubic metres of
liquid effluent laden with metals and salts which creates toxic waste dumps, pits and ponds.
The report includes case studies from Australia, China, South Africa, the UK and the US.
Flick Monk, report author and campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, commented:
“If we are serious about doing our fair share to tackle climate change, we must say no to extremely
polluting new fossil fuel developments. The vast quantities of carbon emissions that would be unlocked
by UCG technology, if the industry ever get it right, would push the world further towards catastrophic
Lucy Cadena, Climate Justice & Energy International programme co-coordinator, Friends of the
Earth International, said: “Governments who welcomed last years’ Paris agreement should end their
support and subsidies, ban this unnecessary and dirty technology, and instead focus on a people-
centred transition to clean, renewable energy systems.”
Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Australia Energy Campaigner, commented:
“Underground Coal Gasification technology has left a trail of destruction in its wake wherever it’s been
tried. All three UCG experiments in Australia have been environmental disasters. This experimental
technology is linked to contamination from dangerous gases escaping into nearby soils and
groundwater, surface subsidence, and produces toxic waste.”
“The contamination from the Queensland UCG trial was so serious that farmers nearby aren’t even
allowed to dig down more than two metres without permission. As a result of this project, the state
government concluded it wasn’t worth the risk and has committed to completely banning the
technology. We urge other countries and states to learn from these disastrous trials and stop the
industry before it can do any more harm.”
Bobby Peek, groundWork South Africa, said:
“Turning coal into liquid fuels, Synthetic Natural Gas and other chemical products leaves a huge
footprint from the massive coal extraction, water consumption, energy use and the creation of toxic
waste. We call on Coal Chemicals to be phased out and for no new plants to be built anywhere in the
Lukas Ross, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US, commented:
“Unconventional coal is a leap in the wrong direction. We don’t need dangerous new technologies to
keep pollution in business. We need to keep coal in the ground.”
Friends of the Earth International calls for an end to the expansion of UCG and Coal Chemicals.
Climate change is already having a devastating impact on communities across the world. There must
be total phase out of these technologies to have a hope of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5
Here you can see the report: https://www.foei.org/resources/publications/unconventional-coal
Notes to editors:
Underground Coal Gasification is an unconventional coal technology where coal seams are burnt under
the ground to produce a type of synthesis gas for energy and industrial use. The Coal Chemical
industry includes a suite of processes where coal is turned into oil, gas and chemical products for
commercial and domestic use.
The report was produced by Friends of the Earth International and Friends of the Earth Scotland. It
was researched and written by Flick Monk, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, with case
study materials from Friends of the Earth groups in Australia, South Africa and the US.
A UCG trial conducted by Linc Energy in Australia from 1999-2013 ended in a major contamination
incident with ‘irreversible damage’ to the environment. The company is being prosecuted for five counts
of ‘willfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm’ between July 2007 and December 2013.
Linc Energy went into voluntary administration in April 2016, and in May 2016 it was announced that the
company is going into liquidation.
On releasing the report, Friends of the Earth International is calling for:
• No new public money into Research & Development of UCG and Coal Chemicals
• An end to public subsidies for existing UCG and Coal Chemicals
• A ban on new UCG and Coal Chemicals development
• A rapid phase out of existing UCG and Coal Chemicals industries
Friends of the Earth International is the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 74
national member groups and some 2 million members and supporters around the world. We challenge
the current model of economic and corporate globalisation, and promote solutions that will help to
create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies.