THE Duke of Buccleuch is backing a controversial project to extract “unconventional gas” from the North Sea that is expected to start production next year.
Newcastle-based Five-Quarter, in which Buccleuch has a 5 per cent stake, has a licence to extract “gas source rock” using underground coal gasification (UCG). This process could be used at Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway, where the Duke’s firm, Buccleuch Group, has applied for a licence to mine coal.
Five-Quarter estimates that there are 3,000 billion tonnes of gas source rock in the Scottish North Sea. The company has a licence to explore a 400sq-km area off the Northumberland coast, which is estimated to contain just over two billion tonnes.
The firm, which recently received a £15 million grant through the UK government’s Regional Growth Fund, aims to establish a gas processing facility within the Enterprise Zone at Blyth, and chief executive Harry Bradbury expects to establish another in Scotland near Grangemouth.
The news comes as the UK government lifted the ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to take gas from shale. Environmentalists are concerned about the potential dangers posed by shale gas as well as other unconventional methods of gas retrieval such as coal-bed methane and UCG.
Bradbury said UCG is common in China and has also seen trials in Australia, South Africa and the US.
He said: “The point is all of these areas of unconventional gas are new and therefore you could argue that they need to be proved a lot more than they have so far.
“Like everything else some trials have been more efficient than others but none have actually created difficulty.”
Bradbury said there were “advanced plans” to develop further gas processing facilities at the Grangemouth and Teesside industrial sites.
While the Department for Energy and Climate Change is embracing the “dash for gas”, with the establishment of an Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil announced in the Autumn Statement, the Scottish Government said a policy on unconventional gas was not being planned.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “While we recognise the future potential there is for unconventional gas in Scotland, shale gases and coal-bed methane are not included in our energy plans or in our national energy modelling. Many alternative energy sources including shale gas, tight gas and coal-bed methane may offer potential, but should only be pursued as long as development and use is consistent with environmental objectives.”
Environmental group WWF Scotland’s senior climate change policy officer, Sam Gardner, said: “Planning for a high gas future that assumes shale and other unconventional gases will even be environmentally, socially or economically feasible to get out the ground in significant quantities is wrong-headed and will lock us into high carbon electricity for years to come and leave our emissions far higher than they should be if we are to hit UK climate targets.
“If the UK was serious about cutting emissions it would ensure shale gas and other unconventional fuels were left in the ground.”