The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not allow enough time for citizens to protest a dangerous, experimental coal project. Citizens will now get a public hearing on a proposal by Linc Energy to exempt an aquifer from Safe Drinking Water Act Protections.

In November, an Australian company, Linc Energy, proposed to bring an experimental coal gasification process to Wyoming in the Wyodak coal seam. The controversial practice involved turning coal to synthetic gas without removing the coal from the ground, essentially by lighting it on fire while it’s still hundreds to thousands of feet underground.

In the 1970s, the United States experimented with underground coal gasification (UCG). The experimentation ultimately cost the government $10 million clean up, a process that took 24 years. The underground gasification polluted groundwater with chemicals such as benzene and toluene.

Linc Energy’s proposed UCG could contaminate the Fort Union Aquifer, a major regional source of drinking water. After reviewing Linc’s application last year and deeming it “technically complete,” the state’s DEQ forwarded it to the EPA for exemption under the Safe Water Drinking Act.

According to the Powder River Basin Resource Council, the EPA is now requiring the Wyoming DEQ to hold a hearing because it “failed to provide appropriate public review and comment opportunities when the request was being considered.” Linc wants the aquifer exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act so that it can proceed with plans to ignite the coal seam of the 1,100-foot-deep Wyodak area of the Fort Union formation.

The EPA will not make a decision on Linc’s aquifer exemption request until the Wyoming DEQ had complete its public process and reported all citizen comments, a response to the comments, its decision, and any other documents associated with the public comment process.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.