Scot-Govt imposes permanent ban on Cluff’s underground coal-gas plan for Forth estuary, and others

Location of Cluff coal-gas exploration licences
Location of Cluff coal-gas exploration licences

The Scottish Government has today imposed a permanent ban on planning applications for any development related to underground coal gas (UCG) and is also urging the UK government – which issues petroleum exploration and development licences – to withdraw such licences relating to Scot-land.

The announcement was made in Holyrood by Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse after a report carried out by Professor Campbell Gemmell of Glasgow University – who was formerly head of the Scottish national environment protection agency.

There are large areas of the sea-bed off the Fife coast under the Forth Estuary for which Cluff Natural Resources plc has exploration licences. The company had earlier called a halt to any preparatory work, including its prospective planning application.

See also:

Independent report forecasts Scots-led 12,000 coal-gas jobs bonanza and £13 billion UK economic boost

There are currently six UCG licences in Scotland, issued by the UK Coal Authority.

Cluff Natural Resources hold three licences in the Firth of Forth at Frances, Kincardine and Largo Bay. 

Five Quarter holds three licences at Central Firth of Forth, Musselburgh Offshore Area and the Solway Firth.  Five Quarter recently went into receivership.

Gemmell’s report said it would be ‘logical to progress toward a ban” of UCG because of the industry’s history of pollution incidents and other problems.

It also pointed out that getting gas from coal in this way would jeopardise the government’s efforts to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions without an effective system of carbon capture and storage.

Wheelhouse said: “Having considered the report in detail, 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. In Professor Gemmell’s report, he recommends it would be wise to consider an approach to UCG based upon a precautionary presumption against the technology, and that it would appear logical to progress toward a ban.

“I cannot predict what kind of clean energy technologies may be available in the decades to come, but what is certain is that this this resource will still be there.”

As a result, he said, the  Scottish government’s new Scottish Energy Strategy will set out an ‘energy mix that does not include UCG’.

Gemmell added; “Despite there being few longer-term operations at scale to consider, and no directly comparable operations in siting, regulatory and policy terms, there is both a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment.

“In my view, the Scottish Government has responded appropriately to the available evidence on this technology.

“Should industry wish to progress this technology at scale here or overseas at some future date, several key factors would need to be addressed, including managing the potential impact of the greenhouse gases produced.

“The onus would also clearly be with the industry to demonstrate and provide evidence that it can operate to the high environmental standards that the government and public should expect.”

Tory MSP Alexander Burnett, the Shadow Scottish Energy, said: “It’s deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government is taking this stance – it’s yet another missed opportunity.

“The SNP has closed the door on shale, and now it’s doing the same for underground coal gasification. These technologies could create thousands of jobs, boost the economy and lower future energy bills.”

Underground coal gasification (UCG) should not be confused with hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or coal-bed methane (CBM) extraction. Hydraulic fracturing and CBM are entirely different technologies that are both covered by a separate moratorium.

Read the Gemmell report

Wheelhouse’s decision also represents an expensive setback for the lobbying campaign carried out on behalf of Cluff Natural Resources by Kevin Pringle, a former SNP and Scot-Govt publicist and unsuccessful Holyrood parliamentary candidate.

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