Moratorium on Underground Coal Gasification

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 8 October 2015 in News

Friends of the Earth Scotland welcome the news, saying UCG is a “risky and experimental technique, with a very chequered history around the world”

The Scottish Government has placed a moratorium on Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) while it considers the impact of the technology.

The Government will carry out a public health impact assessment until summer 2016, examining consequences for transport, seismic monitoring research, and decommissioning and aftercare, as well as the technology’s impact on climate change and economic growth.

A consultation with stakeholders will run from winter 2015/16 to autumn 2016, with the Government’s consultation analysis expected in spring 2017. Professor Campbell Gemmell, former CEO of SEPA, will lead the research.


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The moratorium is separate to the one introduced on fracking and coal bed methane extraction in January 2015.

Announcing the timetable, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said the Government was taking “a precautionary, robust and evidence-based approach to this technology in stark contrast to the gung-ho approach of the UK Government”.

He added that: “We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies”

Environmental campaigners welcomed the news, with Friends of the Earth Scotland warning UCG is a “risky and experimental technique, with a very chequered history around the world”.

While both UCG and fracking are forms of unconventional gas extraction, the Government has said it views them to be two separate technologies, subject to different licensing regimes, and will be considered separately.

Ewing said: “The studies announced today constitute an extremely thorough and wide-ranging examination of the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas and underlines the Scottish Government policy of taking a precautionary, robust and evidence-based approach to this technology in stark contrast to the gung-ho approach of the UK Government.”

He added: “The public will understandably wish to study the outcome of the research process and thus the public consultation will not begin until the findings of the research process have been published.

"We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies – but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are all fully taken account of. The research we propose in this timetable will give all interested stakeholders important information to allow a more informed debate during the public consultation.”

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We strongly urge individuals and communities to fully engage with this process and make their opposition to this dirty industry clear.  All too often the millions spent on PR by big corporations can crowd out the voices of affected communities and those speaking up for the environment and public health when it comes to important policy or decisions like this. INEOS and others have big budgets at their disposal to get their points across. It is vital that people the length and breadth of Scotland who don't want to see the central belt wrecked by the fossil fuel industry make their voice count in this review.

“There is a growing body of evidence from around the world that fracking for shale gas, extracting coal-bed methane and the underground coal gasification process poses unacceptable risks for human health and the environment. In December 2014 New York State joined a number of countries and regions in deciding to banning fracking after undertaking a two-year assessment on the impacts of fracking on human health and the environment.

“We are particularly glad that climate change impacts are to be the subject of detailed study. In the context of our international obligations to cut emissions it would be completely irresponsible for a hydrocarbon-rich nation like Scotland to open up a new frontier of fossil fuels, further exacerbating the climate crisis.”

UCG proposals are currently being developed for the Forth and the Solway.

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