Friends of the Earth Scotland have today (25 July) published a report setting out the serious dangers that Underground Coal Gasification poses in terms of climate change, local environmental impacts, and public health. [1] The report comes in the weeks before Professor Campbell Gemmell is due to submit his review of UCG to Scottish Ministers, under the current moratorium. [2] FoES are urging the Scottish Government to act swiftly to ban UCG, and end uncertainty for threatened communities around the Forth and Solway Firths.

The report includes case studies from Australia, China, South Africa, the UK and the US and finds that:

If Cluff Natural Resources’ Kincardine UCG project went ahead, around 120 million tonnes of CO2 could be released into the atmosphere, more than twice Scotland’s annual carbon emissions. There are a total of 6 licenses in the Forth and Solway Firths. [3]

Globally, Underground Coal Gasification would fuel climate change by potentially creating an extra 1650 billion tonnes of CO2 which alone is four times the amount that can be emitted if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Irreversible environmental damage has been done by Linc Energy’s recent Underground Coal Gasification experiment in Queensland, Australia, prompting the Queensland government to ban the technology.

The US has historically been the testing ground for several UCG experiments that have resulted in long-lasting contamination of groundwater.

In South Africa, Eskom’s recent UCG trial ended with a US$70 million financial impairment of the site, reflecting its complete lack of commercial viability. Currently there are no commercial UCG projects operating in the US and Australia despite decades of research and development.

The author of the report, Friends of the Earth Scotland campaigner Flick Monk, said:

“The history of UCG is littered with contamination incidents, ground subsidence and industrial accidents. Given what we know about this technology's chequered history around the world, plans to burn coal seams under the Firth of Forth are completely reckless.

“The climate change consequences of UCG are enormous and allowing the industry to take root would be completely out of step with Scotland’s world-leading ambition on tackling climate change. We call on the Scottish Government to urgently ban UCG on climate change grounds. Scotland should be investing in clean, community-owned renewables instead of trying ever-more outlandish schemes to get more fossil fuels out of the ground.”

In 2014 local residents from around the Firth of Forth, concerned about underground coal gasification and its potential effects, set up the campaign group ‘Our Forth’. [3] Callum McLeod, current chair of Our Forth and resident of Portobello said:

“Communities have made it clear from the start that any technology that poses risks to our environment, coastlines and health is unwelcome in Scotland. We cannot let Cluff’s coal experiments go ahead in the Firth of Forth because the risks are simply too big.”

Cluff Natural Resources planned to set fire to coal seams under the Firth of Forth but put the project on hold due to the huge public opposition across Scotland and the subsequent moratorium in October 2015. [4] Five Quarter, who also hold licences in the Firth of Forth and Solway Firth and planned to use the controversial technology, collapsed in March 2016. [5]

Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Australia Energy Campaigner commented:

“Underground Coal Gasification technology has left a trail of destruction in its wake wherever it’s been tried. All three UCG experiments in Australia have been environmental disasters. This experimental technology is linked to contamination from dangerous gases escaping into nearby soils and groundwater, surface subsidence, and produces toxic waste.

“The contamination from the Queensland UCG trial was so serious that farmers nearby aren’t even allowed to dig down more than two metres without permission. As a result of this project, the state government concluded it wasn’t worth the risk and has committed to completely banning the technology. We urge other countries and states to learn from these disastrous trials and stop the industry before it can do any more harm.”

After the catastrophic failure of a UCG test project in Queensland, Australia, the operator is being sued by the Government for ‘irreversible environmental damage’. The company has recently gone into liquidation and so is unlikely to pay the clean-up costs estimated to be around A$30 million. The Queensland state Government has introduced a ban on the technology and there are now calls for a ban across the whole of Australia.[6]

Yesterday, the Sunday Herald reported that Professor Campbell Gemmell shares many of FoES concerns around UCG and that his review is likely to go against the technology. [7]


Notes to Editors

1. The report ‘Fuelling the Fire: the chequered history of Underground Coal Gasification and Coal Chemicals around the world’ is available at http://www.foei.org/resources/publications/unconventional-coal

The report is published by Friends of the Earth International and Friends of the Earth Scotland. It was authored by Flick Monk, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, with case study materials from Friends of the Earth groups in Australia, South Africa and the US.

Exclusive stories have appeared in The Guardian & The National on Monday 25th July

2. The Scottish Government introduced a moratorium on UCG in October 2015. This is separate to the moratorium in place on shale gas fracking and coalbed methane. The Government appointed Professor Campbell Gemmell, former CEO of SEPA, to lead an independent examination of the issues and evidence surrounding the UCG industry. Professor Gemmell is due to report to the Scottish Government by the end of summer. http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/onshoreoilandgas/UCG…

3. Our Forth campaign group http://www.ourforth.org/about/

4. The Belltree Group report commissioned by Cluff Natural Resources estimated that the two coal seams in the Kincardine UCG licence area hold a total mid-case scenario of 43 million tonnes of coal suitable for UCG. If all this was gasified and burnt for electricity, a total of 120 million tonnes of CO2 would be produced. http://www.cluffnaturalresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Kincardi…

5. Five Quarter ceased trading in the UK on 1st March 2016: http://www.five-quarter.com/

6. A UCG trial conducted by Linc Energy in Australia from 1999-2013 ended in a major contamination incident with ‘irreversible damage’ to the environment. The company is being prosecuted for five counts of ‘willfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm’ between July 2007 and December 2013. Linc Energy went into voluntary administration in April 2016, and in May 2016 it was announced that the company is going into liquidation.

7. Revealed: blow to controversial plans to burn coal under the sea (24/7/16) http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14638753.Revealed__blow/_to_controver…

FoES comment (24/7/16) at http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/2174

8. Friends of the Earth Scotland is:

* Scotland's leading environmental campaigning organisation

* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland

* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups.