Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association v Leigh Creek Energy
In September 2018, Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA) engaged EDO NSW to apply for an urgent injunction in South Australia's Supreme Court to halt plans by Leigh Creek Energy (LCE) to trial underground coal gasification (UCG) at Leigh Creek (approximately 500km North of Adelaide in South Australia).
LCE has conducted a program of exploratory and appraisal drilling at Leigh Creek since July 2016 in order to test the potential for undertaking UCG at the site. UCG involves converting coal into a gas within the coal seam. The gas is then extracted from the underground coal seam via wells.
ATLA has consistently opposed UCG due to the importance of the site and the coal to Yulu, the Kingfisher Man, one of the major creation ancestors of the Adnyamathanha people.
Coal rail tracks near Leigh Creek. Photo credit: Boobook48 Flickr
In February 2018, ATLA made objections to the draft Environmental Impact Report and draft Statement of Environmental Objectives (SEO) for the UCG trial. Despite these objections, the SEO was approved in April 2018.
When the UCG trial received its final Activity Approval in early September 2018, ATLA sought an urgent interim injunction in the Supreme Court, arguing that the approval was invalid. The Court handed down its decision on 21 September 2018. Despite finding that the UCG trial would cause significant, and largely irreparable, prejudice to the cultural interests of the Adnyamathanha people, the Court decided that the "balance of convenience" weighed against the grant of the injunction to prevent the trial from going ahead. In making its decision the Court had regard, amongst other things, to the financial "prejudice" that would be suffered by LCE should its plans be delayed.
LCE began its three-month UCG trial in October 2018. However, it has had to request suspensions of the trial because it has had difficulties establishing full gasification in the coal seam. In late 2018 LCE proposed to undertake additional drilling and seismic testing in the area to inform the design for a potential commercial facility.
We are continuing to advise ATLA on its legal options for protecting their Adnyamathanha people’s ancestral lands.