The Scottish Government has blocked plans to set fire to coal under the sea because it “poses numerous and serious environmental risks”.
The energy minister Paul Wheelhouse announced this afternoon that underground coal gasification (UCG) “will have no place in Scotland’s energy mix at this time”. He has also asked the UK Government not to issue any new licences for the technology, and to rescind existing licences.
The UK Coal Authority has previously granted licences to the multi-millionaire oil tycoon, Algy Cluff, to investigate UCG in three areas of the Firth Forth, though he now says he is focussing his efforts off the northeast of England. Newcastle-based Five Quarter also has three UCG licences, two in the Firth of Forth and one in the Solway Firth, but it has ceased trading.
UCG would involve drilling boreholes up to a kilometre deep, burning coal seams under the seabed, and extracting the resulting gas to heat homes. The Ferret has reported that the process caused widespread contamination in Queensland, Australia, and uncovered draft reports from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) suggesting that it could cause pollution, earthquakes, underground explosions and “uncontrollable” fires in Scotland.
After pressure from campaigners and local communities, the Scottish Government imposed a moratorium on UCG in October 2015. This was in addition to its moratorium on the related but different technology of fracking for shale gas under the land.
The Scottish Government commissioned Sepa’s former chief executive and University of Glasgow professor, Campbell Gemmell, to review UCG. His 239-page report, published today, concludes that “there is a persuasive case that pursuit of UCG is not the right approach” and suggests that ministers should “progress towards a ban for the foreseeable future.”
According to Gemmell, the Scottish Government’s targets to cut climate pollution would be “very seriously impacted” by the release of greenhouse gases from UCG operations “making the achievement of current or stronger commitments much more difficult if not impossible.” The technology had “a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment,” he said.
Wheelhouse endorsed Gemmell’s conclusions, promising that Scotland’s energy strategy “will set out an energy mix for the future that does not include UCG.”
He added: “It is the Scottish Government’s view that UCG poses numerous and serious environmental risks and, on that basis, the Scottish Government cannot support this technology. Accordingly, UCG will have no place in Scotland’s energy mix at this time.”
The Ferret reported in July that Gemmell had concerns about climate pollution and the safety standards association with UCG, suggesting that he would come out against the technology.