Forth coal discovery prompts controversial new gas extraction plan

A significant discovery of coal has been found under the Forth between Kincardine power station and Grangemouth
A significant discovery of coal has been found under the Forth between Kincardine power station and Grangemouth

The discovery of a new source of gas under the Firth of Forth has already sparked off the threat of a new environmental battle.

With the lines already drawn between environmental opponents and an energy company hoping to extract methane gas by drilling near Airth, another plan has been floated that is certain to attract just as much attention.

Cluff Natural Resources hopes to extract gas from under the Firth of Forth which it claims could power around 15 million homes for a year.

The energy giant plans to build the UK’s first underground coal gasification (UCG) plant – a form of unconventional gas extraction which has been used in countries such as Russia for almost a century.

It revealed on Monday that an independent consultant had verified a find of 335 million tonnes of coal under the Firth in the “Kincardine Licence Area”.

It is currently working on a planning application for the project.

The Kincardine licence covers an area of 37.6sq km of tidal estuary waters next to the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth and the Longannet power station in Fife.

The Cluff report said that “a number of other energy-intensive industries” in the Grangemouth and Kincardine area “could benefit from a new low-cost source of fuel gas and petrochemical feedstock”.

The company claims that the UK has much to gain from UCG, “As the United Kingdom is well placed within Europe having large resources of indigenous coal still remaining both onshore and offshore in the North Sea, these resources have the potential to provide security of future energy supplies long after North Sea oil and gas are exhausted.”

The plan has already caused alarm among environmental groups.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The history of the technology is pretty chequered. We do not have enough records from Russia to prove how safe it has been and, in the US, where they have used the technique since the 1950s, they have had some disasters.

“If you burn rock, it tends to fracture, which can release water which has been in contact with the coal and may create some toxic material.”