Report reveals impact concerns

Scottish government confirms ban on gas extraction

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse (pic: Terry Murden)
Paul Wheelhouse (pic: Terry Murdene

The Scottish Government has ruled against drilling onshore for gas after being told that there were “serious environmental concerns”.

It has confirmed an existing moratorium on underground coal gasification (UCG) which was imposed last October.

UCG is not to be confused with hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or coal-bed methane, both of which are unconventional oil and gas (UOG) technologies.

Today’s announcement has no bearing on the policy on either of these technologies, which remain covered by the Scottish Government’s moratorium on UOG technologies.

It coincided with a decision by the UK government to allow fracking to go ahead in Lancashire.

UK Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announcement prompted anger from environmentalists and local campaign groups saying it was a denial of local democracy after the county council had rejected the plan.

It means, for the first time, UK shale rock will be fracked horizontally, which is expected to yield more gas.

Professor Campbell Gemmell of Glasgow University, who produced today’s report for the Scottish government, said he had made his recommendations based on “a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment”.

He said that if the industry wanted to explore this method of extraction at some time in the future it would need to “demonstrate and provide evidence that it can operate to the high environmental standards that the government and public should expect.”

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse told Parliament it would appear logical “to progress toward a ban” on UCG, based on:

• the UCG industry having a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment and;

• UCG presenting a serious issue to face 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.

“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 of today’s announcement, our Energy Strategy for Scotland will set out an energy mix for the future that does not include UCG. The position I have announced on UCG is a clear validation of the evidence-based approach this government is taking and I thank Professor Gemmell for his work in preparing the report.”

Mr Wheelhouse has written to the UK Government, requesting that it issues no further UCG licences in Scotland and that existing licences are revoked. The Scottish Government will continue to use planning powers available to it to ensure UCG applications do not receive planning or environmental permission.

Former SEPA chief executive Professor Gemmell, professor of environment research at the University of Glasgow, said: “I have consulted widely, including with industry, communities, regulators, academic specialists and NGOs, and studied the available evidence on the technologies and impacts involved in Underground Coal Gasification, including the variety of international experience.

“It is extremely difficult to conceive of UCG progressing into use at this time. 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.”

Environmental groups were hoping for outright ban on the controversial method of converting underground coal into gas.

But industrialists have led demands for the process to be approved, saying it is vital to meet the country’s energy demands and that it will create a valuable new industry.

Energy firm Cluff Natural Resources wanted to build the UK’s first deep offshore UCG plant at Kincardine, extracting gas from coal seams under the Forth.

Cluff claimed Scotland would retain almost half of the £13 billion that could be generated from the industry.



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