Fuelling the fire: new coal technologies spell disaster for climate

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.

Report author, Flick Monk, a 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 climate change.”

Dipti Bhatnagar, Climate Justice & Energy International programme co-coordinator, Friends of the Earth International commented: "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, 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 from the authorities. 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 world.”

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 degrees.


Please take action

Sign our petition calling for a ban on the use of this technology in Australia


For more information or interviews:

Cam Walker 0419338047


Leonie Beunen

Friends of the Earth International Press Office

Phone: 0031 20 622 13 69 / 0031 6 52 08 80 75

Mail: [email protected]


Click here for the report


Notes to editors:

The report ‘Fuelling the Fire: the chequered history of Underground Coal Gasification and Coal Chemicals around the world’ is available at http://www.foei.org/resources/publications/unconventional-coal.


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 over four months 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.