Call for wider fracking moratorium in Scotland

AN ALLIANCE of community and environmental groups has called for the Scottish Government’s moratorium on fracking to be extended to cover underground coal gasification.

Anti-fracking protesters demonstrate outside Grangemouth. Picture: Michael Gillen
Anti-fracking protesters demonstrate outside Grangemouth. Picture: Michael Gillen
Anti-fracking protesters demonstrate outside Grangemouth. Picture: Michael Gillen

Almost 30 organisations and individuals, including residents’ associations, academics, Friends of the Earth and Unison Scotland, have made the plea in a letter to energy minister Fergus Ewing.

Campaigners welcomed the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas developments announced last month but say it does not go far enough.

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The letter to Mr Ewing says they are “gravely concerned” that underground coal gasification, a technique which produces gas from coal seams underground, is not included in its scope.

Energy company Cluff Natural Resources is drawing up plans to extract coal from under the Firth of Forth. The company says a study has found as much as 335 million tonnes of coal near Kincardine and is now seeking permission to build the UK’s first deep offshore underground coal gasification project to extract it.

The letter said: “Many of the environmental and public health impacts of underground coal gasification are understood to be very similar to those of shale gas and coalbed methane extraction.

“While we are disappointed that coal authority licensing is not proposed to be devolved to Holyrood under the Smith Commission, we note that the means of imposing a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas developments – ensuring that no planning permissions or environmental permits are granted for these developments – could equally be applied to underground coal gasification, therefore we strongly urge you to extend the scope of the moratorium and related work to this experimental technology.”

Mary Church, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Underground coal gasification is the most experimental and frightening method of unconventional gas extraction currently threatening Scottish communities.

“Not only have recent trials around the world gone badly wrong, but the likely climate impact of this inefficient technology is simply unacceptable.

“It makes no sense for a country with ambitious climate targets and the means to achieve them with renewables to flirt with such a risky form of energy production.

“Communities threatened with Cluff’s plans to ignite the coal under the Forth are asking why hasn’t the Scottish Government acted to protect them in the way that communities facing shale gas fracking and coal bed methane drilling are.”

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The fracking moratorium has been proposed while a full public consultation is carried out, alongside further research into the technique to look at planning, environmental regulation and the impact on public health.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We continue to take a careful, and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas and fracking – an approach now underpinned by the recent moratorium announcement, which outlined our plans for a full public consultation and further research.

“The moratorium is specifically about onshore unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking – further to confirmation by the UK government that it would devolve onshore licensing powers for these types of development.

“Many of the relevant powers relating to underground coal gasification remain with Westminster and the licensing regime is not being devolved, though we will work with Sepa and all relevant regulators to ensure we have the appropriate controls and regulations to protect the environment.”