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Coal gas plant to receive state review
Linc Energy operates this underground coal gasification pilot plant in Australia. Linc Energy photo

Coal gas plant to receive state review

Nov 6, 2013 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- An Australian company's plans to experiment in Wyoming with turning coal into gas without removing the coal from the ground are headed before a state review panel amid concerns the project could contaminate groundwater.

The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council is scheduled to review a pending state research and development license for Linc Energy at a hearing Nov. 14.

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

The project threatens to contaminate the Fort Union Aquifer, which supplies water to Gillette and Sheridan, said Shannon Anderson, a resource council attorney.

"We believe it's really important to maintain the quality and quantity of our water to the extent we can," Anderson said Tuesday.

The Sierra Club and Wyoming Outdoor Council have filed similar objections. The project area covers just 80 acres, but Amber Wilson with the Outdoor Council said approval now could open the door for a much larger development.

"This could end up being much bigger than the area of the aquifer exemption they're asking for," Wilson said.

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.

"That's the whole purpose of our technical review," Nuttbrock said.

The manager of the Linc Energy project declined to comment. The company's website says its underground coal gasification technique promises cleaner and less expensive energy than importing foreign oil.

The process was first developed 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.

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