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Scottish Ministers Reject Coal Gasification Plans

The government of Scotland on 6 October requested the revoking of six licenses to fund underground coal gasification (UCG), citing concerns from analysts over possible environmental and climate damage.

“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,” affirmed Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse according to The Guardian.

“Accordingly, UCG will have no place in Scotland’s energy mix at this time,” Wheelhouse added, saying that his decision was based on an expert report from ex-chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Prof. Campbell Gemmell.

UCG had been placed under moratorium pending the results of the independent study. The suspension of horizontal fracking in Britain, meanwhile, was lifted on 6 October, though Scottish ministers are expected to make a final decision later this year.

The UCG technique involves chemically igniting coal seams, which are abundant underground as well as the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh and Solway Firth north of Carlisle. After ignition is complete under controlled conditions, the released methane-rich gases at ground level are captured before processing the gasses.

Proponents of UCG claim that the technique is more environmentally friendly in that it leads to less carbon dioxide emissions compared to traditional coal mining. Furthermore, Scottish UCG backers believe the technique can help the nation gain greater energy independence and rely less on imports.

“As with fracking, underground coal has the potential to create thousands of jobs and boost the economy at a time when the North Sea oil and gas industry is in decline,” said Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett as described by The Daily Record.

Yet UCG technology in Scotland is nascent, very much untested, and could take many years prior to approval by British regulators. One of the two developers behind UCG in Scotland – Five Quarter – went out of business earlier this year.

Environmentalists argue that UCG is unsafe and an environmental hazard, and have cited prosecution against one developer in the Australian state of Queensland accused of contamination and leaks into the environment.

“The history of UCG is littered with contamination incidents, ground subsidence and industrial accidents. [We] look forward to the Scottish government acting swiftly to ban shale gas fracking and coalbed methane drilling once it has finished its review,” declared Mary Church, head of campaigns with Friends of the Earth Scotland.

By Erwin Cifuentes for Oilprice.com

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