Campaigners’ calls for the Scottish Government to extend its fracking moratorium to include offshore developments provoked an angry response from some quarters.
Last month energy minister Fergus Ewing announced the SNP government would not grant consent for onshore shale gas or coalbed methane developments until further research and a public consultation is carried out.
Now anti-fracking groups want the ban to cover underground coal gasification, or UCG, describing the process to produce gas and oil from seams deep underground as “experimental” and “frightening”.
Cluff Natural Resources is currently looking to develop the UK’s first deep offshore UCG plant to try to tap into supplies under the Firth of Forth, an estimated total of 335 tonnes.
Andrew Nunn, chief operating officer, said: “The only way to further the evidence base is to proceed in a cautious manner with a small pilot operation with rigorous oversight from all the various regulators and members of the local community.
“The only objection to this sort of scientific approach can be that it will expose the extremists’ anti-UCG rhetoric for what it is and leave communities wondering what all the fuss was about.
Scottish communities should not be allowed to be used as guinea pigs in an unproven industryMaria Montinaro
“What these groups are either unaware of or deliberately failing to acknowledge is that the UK government has already spent millions of pounds on accumulating the evidence base to support UCG policy in the UK.
“This scientific study was carried out between 1999 and 2009 and culminated in a feasibility report for a UCG demonstration project in the Firth of Forth. The Scottish Government has always been committed to an evidence-based approach to energy policy and the deliberate exclusion of UCG from the moratorium is acknowledgement the evidence base for UCG already exists.
“Unfortunately for those opposed to UCG, you cannot randomly pick which scientific evidence you choose to believe in. If you accept unequivocal evidence for climate change you also have to accept similarly strong evidence that a well-executed UCG project will have a negligible risk of adverse environmental outcomes.”
UCG is an industrial process which converts coal into gases like methane and hydrogen. It involves the injection of oxidants into underground coal seams and then bringing the gas to surface through production wells drilled from the surface.
Opponents point to pilot UCG sites around the world, including Cougar Energy’s development in Kingaroy, Australia, which was closed in 2011 after cancer causing chemical benzene was found in groundwater, resulting in a $75,000 fine for the firm.
Maria Montinaro, of Concerned Communities of Falkirk, said: “Scottish communities should not be allowed to be used as guinea pigs in an unproven industry with an exceptionally poor track record worldwide.
“Especially in view of the high density of population in the Forth Valley and the catastrophic risks should a serious incident occur, bearing in mind the types of industry located in the area.”
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