An Australian company hoping to build an underground coal gasification project in Campbell County will have to wait a little longer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed the Wyoming Department of Environmental Protection it needs longer to review Linc Energy’s request for an aquifer exemption. Both agencies’ approval is required for the project to move forward.

The Brisbane-based firm is hoping to test a pilot project near Wright, where air would be pumped into a coal seam underground. The oxidized coal would then be turned into gas.

But the plan has run into concerns from landowners in the region, who worry it could contaminate local water supplies. A 2013 investigation into a similar Linc project by regulators in the Australian state of Queensland found elevated levels of benzene and ammonia, among other contaminants, in groundwater near the company’s operations.

Linc is contesting that finding.

Earlier this year, the DEQ recommended that the EPA approve the request. The federal agency said it intended to decide within 20 days of receiving the department’s written comments. Those comments were officially delivered July 7.

Callie Videtich, acting assistant administrator for EPA Region 8, wrote DEQ Director Todd Parfitt in a letter dated July 24 to say the agency would not meet that deadline.

“In order to comply with our statutory and regulatory obligations and due to the volume of information associated with Linc Energy Ltd.’s request for an aquifer exemption, including the numerous comments received during the March 2014 public hearing, as well as the complexity of the issues involved, we will need more time to thoroughly analyze this aquifer exemption,” Videtich wrote.

It was unclear when the EPA will rule. The letter did not specify, and an agency spokeswoman offered no timeline on when a decision would be made. 

The EPA is aware of the situation in Australia, said Region 8 spokeswoman Lisa McClain-Vanderpool. She did not say what role, if any, the Australian findings would play in the EPA's decision. 

"While we are still reviewing the information provided by the state, we believe we have what we need to fully consider the merits of this specific request for an aquifer exemption," McClain-Vanderpool wrote in an email. "We intend to stay in close communication with the state while we conduct and finalize our review."

State officials said they did not know when an announcement would be made.

“We’re waiting on them to give us a decision,” said DEQ spokesman Keith Guille.

A Linc representative declined comment for this story.

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

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