How the Hazelwood Coal Mine Fire May Shutdown Victoria

Following the Victorian 2009 Black Saturday Bushfire catastrophe, various recommendations were made by the Royal Commission to mitigate the effects of future bushfire events.
Unfortunately, very few of the recommendations have been applied.

In the 2013 – 2014 bushfire season, severe bushfires broke out all across Australia, including WA, NT, QLD, NSW and VIC.

This intelligence estimate focusses upon the recent Hazelwood Coal Mine fire near Morwell, Victoria. This facility is a Vital Asset.

The coal mine was ignited when a small, deliberately lit grass-fire spotted into the mine on 09FEB2014.

Aerial water-bombing operations  – Hazelwood mine near Morwell, Victoria

Aerial water-bombing operations – Hazelwood mine near Morwell, Victoria

MODIS satellite image  of bushfire activity in South-east Australia on 11FEB2014.

MODIS satellite image of bushfire activity in South-east Australia on 11FEB2014.

The flames took approximately 4 weeks to extinguish and the Victorian CFA have now announced that the fire-fighting operations are in their final stages.

hazelwood-mine-update-14march14.png

Mr Warrington states that the hot spots are only 0.5 metres in depth, however, coal mine fire history suggests that the Hazelwood mine fire could enter a much more dangerous phase.
We still do not know exactly how deep the fire has penetrated into the coal seam. In other words, has the surface mine fire now extended into the underground areas of the coal seam?

This is critical, because once a surface fire becomes an underground fire, it is almost impossible to extinguish.

This night view of the  Hazelwood mine fire  details both the extent of the fire [foreground] and the close proximity of the power station [background].

This night view of the Hazelwood mine fire details both the extent of the fire [foreground] and the close proximity of the power station [background].

Daylight image that details the  close proximity of the mine to the power station .

Daylight image that details the close proximity of the mine to the power station.

According to a 28FEB2014 article by David Cliff, Professor of Occupational Health & Safety in Mining at the University of Queensland;

The location of the fire at Morwell makes close access problematic as the smoke and fumes pose a significant health risk to the firefighters (not to mention other emergency workers like paramedics, along with local residents). The logistics of dealing with this size of fire are quite staggering in terms of people, machinery, water and length of time.
The danger is that the visible fire will be extinguished but the underlying coal will remain hot. If this is the case and air can get into the seam, the fire can rekindle, days, months or even years into the future. This has been observed here and overseas on many occasions. Brown coal has to be kept moist to prevent it spontaneously combusting.
— David Cliff
Image of Burning Mountain, NSW. This is the  oldest known underground coal fire  in the world. A coal seam has been burning here for an estimated 6,000 years.

Image of Burning Mountain, NSW. This is the oldest known underground coal fire in the world. A coal seam has been burning here for an estimated 6,000 years.

If there is an underground coal fire burning along seams beneath the Hazelwood power station, then 25% of the Victorian power supply is at risk.

Underground Coal Seam Fires

The danger in underground coal seam fires is that surprisingly few people know about them. As reported by Danny Kingsley in a ABC Science Online article;

Coal burning deep underground in China, India and Indonesia is threatening the environment and human life, geologists have warned.” “These large-scale underground blazes cause the ground temperature to heat up and kill surrounding vegetation, produce greenhouse gases and can even ignite forest fires, a panel of scientists told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver.

The resulting release of toxic elements like arsenic, mercury and selenium can also pollute local water sources and soils, they warned.
— Danny Kingsley

One of the most experienced global experts on coal mine fires is Professor Glenn Stracher from the East Georgia State College in the US.

In this radio interview with ABC Radio reporter Phillip Adams, Prof Glenn Stracher explains just how dangerous the Hazelwood coal mine fires are for communities.

China has the largest number of underground coal seam fires in the world, where an estimated 200 million tons of coal burns per year.

They are monstrous, centuries-old infernos that issue thick billows of ash and smoke, and generate sinkholes that consume roads and homes without warning. Yet in spite of the dangers they pose, underground coal fires are some of the least known environmental disasters. China, the world’s largest miner and consumer of coal, has consistently downplayed the fires in its coalfields, considered the most severe on earth.
— Prof. Glenn Stracher

To bring this in perspective, US industry burns about 1 billion tons of coal per annum. This indicates the severity of this type of disaster that can occur without proper risk management.

The Centralia, PA underground coal seam fire in the US also provides a stark example of how serious the ramifications are with these types of fires.

Fifty years ago on Sunday, a fire at the town dump ignited an exposed coal seam, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to the demolition of nearly every building in Centralia — a whole community of 1,400 simply gone.

This YouTube video adds to the devastating chronicle of what happens with out-of-control underground coal seam fires.

The  main street in Centralia, PA , then and now.

The main street in Centralia, PA, then and now.

Young  Todd Dombroski stares into the abys s that nearly took his life.

Young Todd Dombroski stares into the abyss that nearly took his life.

In this article by Audrey Wozniak, there is also a significant threat to those fire-fighters tasked to extinguish coal seam fires.

Firefighting crews endure scalding heat and toxic fumes to put out the superficial flames, but the true enemy lies deep beneath the surface, sustained by oxygen-rich fissures in the earth. Underground fires cause the earth above them to cave in as the burning coal turns to ash, simultaneously fuelling the oxygen supply and causing massive sinkholes that destroy roads and buildings. A fire consuming a coal bed moves up to two meters a month, and can easily spread to neighbouring coal deposits, making it difficult to determine the flame’s source.
— Audrey Wozniak

The Armoured Strike Team vehicles originally recommended for Australian fire-fighters in 2007 have quarantined breathing systems plus a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical [NBC] hardening.

The dedicated armoured fire-fighting vehicle Loeshpanzer – based upon the Leopard 1 tank chassis.

The dedicated armoured fire-fighting vehicle Loeshpanzer – based upon the Leopard 1 tank chassis.

The KLF Marder  – a German designed fire-fighting vehicle based upon a military Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC].

The KLF Marder – a German designed fire-fighting vehicle based upon a military Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC].

the-fire-king.png

Above is the Australian designed Fireking – built in Bendigo, VIC. None are in service with the Victorian CFA.

A 'scorched' prototype Fire King after successfully withstanding the CSIRO's "burnover standard". Despite the scorch damage this vehicle was driven off the test-bed after the test.

A 'scorched' prototype Fire King after successfully withstanding the CSIRO's "burnover standard". Despite the scorch damage this vehicle was driven off the test-bed after the test.

The Fireking undergoing CSIRO testing - perhaps the only Australian fire-fighting vehicle capable of surviving this 20-minute test.

The Fireking undergoing CSIRO testing - perhaps the only Australian fire-fighting vehicle capable of surviving this 20-minute test.

Conclusion

In military terms, the Hazelwood power station is a Vital Asset in the national register.
It therefore lies within the parameters of the Australian Defence Force sphere of interest.
There are multiple threats to the Hazelwood Power station and people living in the Morwell district, specifically;

  1. Continuing and escalating threat of underground coal seam fires, with the potential to undermine the structure, facilities and infrastructure vital to the electrical generation of 20-25% of Victorian capacity.
  2. Poisoning of the air from any further coal seam burns, whether by spontaneous combustion from those areas already burned, or from the ignition of underground coal seams.
  3. Such air pollution will ensure that the workforce within and supporting the power plant operations will face currently unpredictable and likely long-term health risks. These skilled workers and their families will leave the vicinity.
  4. Should power supply interruptions [short or long term] occur as in 2006, there may well be a flow-on of catastrophic effects for the estimated 5,737,600 residents of Victoria. Does Victoria have a viable back-up plan should it lose one quarter of its generation capacity?
  5. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this analysis to comprehensively project or predict such events, it should be noted = if no additional capacity can be sourced from the National Electricity Market [NEM] to make up the shortfall, then ramifications will include:
    1. Spoilage of perishable foods from any retail outlet that does not have adequate and or long-term back-up electrical generating capacity – does Coles, Woolworths and their logistics facilities have such a capability?
    2. Other ramifications will be added, subject to time constraints.
    3. Emergency services such as Ambulance, Fire and Police responses will be severely compromised.
    4. All business, whether government, corporate or private, will be compromised. Expect problems with water and sewerage pumping stations.
    5. Hospitals without any reliable backup generation will be unable to provide normal healthcare services. Expect the cancellation of all elective surgery.
    6. Widespread blackouts – shutdown of broadcast media, radio television and internet, traffic chaos [no traffic lights], all trams and suburban trains will stop. Petrol stations will be unable to provide fuel for public transport [buses] corporate & wholesalers or private individuals.
  6. Hazelwood power station also had a fire in the mine in 2006 resulting in power interruptions:
A 2006 fire at the same Hazelwood mine burned for about 10 days and damaged parts of the coal plant that is supplied by the mine, interrupting some power supply. At the time, Environment Victoria called for it to be shut down. ‘Hazelwood already produces more global warming pollution per unit of electricity than any power station in the developed world. Fires in their coal pit just add to their record levels of pollution,’ Environment Victoria’s executive director Marcus Godinho told The Age.

THough weeks is a long time for a fire to burn, Hazelwood’s is young compared to the coal fire in Simpson, Pennsylvania that’s been burning since December, at least. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t know exactly when it started, or how. But workers have been pouring over a million gallons of water on the fire a day and diffing dozens of feet underground to find more burning coal. The whole project is expected to cost $2 million by the time the fire is extinguished, which will come at least in part from federal funds.

The 2014 mine fire is significantly larger than the 2006 event. To suggest or hope that there will be no power interruptions is unacceptable in any proper risk management process.

Material on pages 12 to 19 provide a synopsis of previous Intelligence Estimates that recommended drought mitigation and new bushfire combat methods in Australia.

Note that the Hazelwood power station was listed as an option to produce thermally desalinated water for drought mitigation.

2007 Intelligence Estimates

Construct Low Temperature, Multi-Effect Distillation [LT-MED] Desalination Plants, adjacent to Heavy Industry and/or Power Stations and/or geothermal resources.

Power stations such as Yallourn & Hazelwood can be modified into Cogeneration [also known as Combined Heat & Power [CHP]] facilities. They are only 100kms from seawater access and can be used for thermal distillation.

cogeneration.png

Basic principles of cogeneration;

  • Top diagram, regular power plant = 70% of the heat is lost.
  • Bottom diagram, cogeneration with heat recovery = 55% heat can be recycled for thermal desalination.
  • Overall efficiency – Regular = 30% Versus CHP = 85%
water-desalination-process.png

Graph - Costs of Desalination

By using heat recycling, Thermal Energy costs are reduced to the point that MED is far more economical & efficient than the Reverse Osmosis [RO] process.

The Wonthaggi Reverse Osmosis Desalination plant was budgeted to cost approx. $2,100 million [$2.1 Billion], however, the costs blew out to over $5,600 million [$5.6 Billion]

Source: Brumby’s Money Pit, by Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar: The Age, dated 8th August, 2010. : http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/brumbys-giant-money-pit-20100827-13w2n.html

According to Tom Arup, also from The Age, in an article entitled, Desal Plant Could Sit Idle for 3 Years, dated 27th March, 2013;

“In 2013-14, the plant will cost Victorian taxpayers $649 million even without water ordered.” Source: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/desal-plant-could-sit-idle-for-three-years-20130327-2gtn6.html#ixzz2fFJM0kqv

peter-andrews.png

Water from thermal desalination plants is:

  • provided to Peter Andrews and his Natural Sequence Farming team
  • piped to the headwaters of inland creeks and rivers for trickle feeding,
  • stored in water-towers near at-risk communities for bushfire mitigation.

Peter has been converting drought-stricken, salt-pan affected, unproductive and clapped-out farmland back into pristine primary producing areas for many years. Our plan is to utilising these proven methods on our Crown Lands, State forests and areas surrounding at-risk communities, to reduce drought and mitigate bushfire risks.
Source: http://www.nsfarming.com/index.html

After 30 years of pioneering work in Natural Sequence Farming, Peter was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2011.

After 30 years of pioneering work in Natural Sequence Farming, Peter was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2011.

Monash was one of the most progressive Allied Commanders in World War I – he was a proponent of Armoured war-fighting. We have adapted these principles for our Armoured fire-fighting Strike Teams.

Monash was one of the most progressive Allied Commanders in World War I – he was a proponent of Armoured war-fighting. We have adapted these principles for our Armoured fire-fighting Strike Teams.

100-dollar-note.png

Monash – On War-fighting – circa 1918

“the true role of infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, ... but, on the contrary, … to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward."

Monash Adaptation on Fire-fighting - circa 2007

“the true role of firefighters, emergency services and citizens is not to expend themselves upon heroic physical effort, nor to wither away under merciless fire fronts, not to be trapped by hostile ember attacks, nor to be engulfed by clouds of blinding smoke and ash, not to see their families, communities and workmates perish … but, on the contrary, … to prevail and survive using the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in static defences, such as firefighting shelters, sprinkler systems and water reservoirs, in mobile assaults, by use of back-burning, armoured strike teams, aeroplanes and helicopters; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved of the obligation to fight their way forward through insurmountable walls of flame."

The Jumbo 5000 – based upon the Leopard 1 AFV chassis, this dedicated fire-fighting vehicle has a 20,000 litre capacity and maximum crew protection including Nuclear, Chemical and Biological hazard capabilities.

The Jumbo 5000 – based upon the Leopard 1 AFV chassis, this dedicated fire-fighting vehicle has a 20,000 litre capacity and maximum crew protection including Nuclear, Chemical and Biological hazard capabilities.

fire-king-4wd.png