The Scottish Government will block underground coal gasification

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 6 October 2016 in News

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse confirms ministers will use planning powers to stop applications going ahead

Scottish Parliament - credit: Holyrood

The Scottish Government will not support Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) in Scotland, with Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse confirming ministers will use planning powers to stop applications going ahead.

The Scottish Government introduced a moratorium on UCG last year, while Professor Campbell Gemmell of University of Glasgow undertook an independent examination of the technique, which is a form of unconventional gas extraction.

The report warned that UCG has a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment and presents a serious issue in reducing Scotland’s emissions, without an operational storage method, such as carbon capture.


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Wheelhouse has written to the UK Government, requesting that it issues no further UCG licences in Scotland and that existing licences are revoked.

Gemmell 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.”

Environmental campaigners welcomed the news, with Friends of the Earth Scotland describing the move as a “victory for people power”.

But the Scottish Conservatives expressed disappointment.

Scottish Tory energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: "These technologies could create thousands of jobs, boost the economy and lower future energy bills.

"The SNP is at great pains to say how different fracking and UCG are - perhaps their biggest similarity is the SNP's dogmatic objection to them both. If we don't start embracing these technologies, we risk getting left behind altogether."

Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said the plan “was always a reckless idea”.

She said: "The history of UCG is littered with contamination incidents, ground subsidence and industrial accidents. Today's announcement will come as a huge relief to communities around the Forth and Solway Firths faced with this highly experimental technology, and give heart to communities threatened by other intrusive new fossil fuels. We look forward to the Scottish Government acting swiftly to ban shale gas fracking and coalbed methane drilling once it has finished its review.

"Today's UCG decision is the first time the Scottish Government has said no to more fossil fuel extraction and marks a hugely important turning point in the fight against climate change. To have any chance of keeping warming under the critical 1.5C limit we need a radical and fair overhaul of our energy systems, and commitment to leaving fossil fuels in the ground."

Meanwhile WWF Scotland director Lang Banks called on the Scottish Government to make a similar commitment to ban fracking.

He said: “The science is clear - to protect our climate the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned.

“Pursuing new fossil fuels would be a distraction from the renewables revolution already underway in Scotland. With well over half of our electricity now coming from clean renewable sources, we should be focusing on expanding renewables in to other sectors such as heat and transport.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said introducing a new cause of carbon emissions was “the last thing we need”.

He said: “Allowing unconventional coal gasification to become part of our energy mix at this stage would have been a backward step as we work to cut emissions. Boosting our renewable sector in the face of Tory cuts should be the priority.”

The Scottish Government report on fracking is expected to be published after recess.

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