“No place” for UCG in Government energy plans

Proposals for schemes under the Forth provoked strong opposition.
Proposals for schemes under the Forth provoked strong opposition.

The Scottish government has said it “cannot support” underground coal gasification, after a new report raised serious environmental concerns over the process.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has told MSPs that the gas extraction technique “poses numerous and serious environmental risks” and that it has “no place in Scotland’s energy mix at this time”.

UCG extracts gas from coal seams that are too deep underground to be mined using traditional techniques by controlled burning. Projects proposed for coal seams under the Firth of Forth and Solway Firth were put on hold while the report, by Professor Campbell Gemmell of Glasgow University, was compiled.

It found that the Government should move towards banning UCG based on a variety of reasons including the industry having a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment and UCG presenting a serious issue in reducing Scotland’s carbon/greenhouse gas emissions without an operational storage method, such as carbon capture.

Mr 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.”

The minister has written to the UK Government to request that it issues no further licences for UCG in Scotland, and asking that existing licences be revoked.

The move has been welcomed by environmental groups with Friends of the Earth Scotland saying the decision is “a victory for people power”.

Mary Church, head of campaigns, said: “Setting coal seams alight under two of our major firths was always a reckless idea and the Government has listened to communities and put an end to this risky industry.”

RSPB Scotland also said that moves have to made towards sustainable, low carbon energy.

Lloyd Austin, head of conservation policy, said: “Given sites being investigated include some of our most important places for marine wildlife including internationally protected seabirds, we welcome that the Government has taken a precautionary approach, resisted pressures to rush ahead with this technology and put the protection of the environment first.”