Burning Underground Coal for Gas – Blessing or Curse – UK Debates

Coal Authority of the UK government has granted licenses for underground coal gasification (UCG). It covers more than 1,500 sq km of seabed off north-east and north-west England, Wales and east central Scotland. These licenses are to set fire to coal under the seabed of 19 sites around the UK. Cluff Natural Resources has nine licenses and Fiver Quarter has 10, to the potential undersea coalfields.

This has raised a big hue and cry in the UK. The Scottish and Welsh governments have put a temporary stay on this technology due to concerns about the dangers. Subsequent to the huge resistance from environmentalists and public, the government has appointed Mr. Gemmell, the former chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and an environmental research professor at the University of Glasgow, to examine UCG. During UCG procedure two boreholes are drilled up to 1km deep, then fire is set to underground coal seams with the help of injecting oxygen and water through one hole, and thus extracting the resulting gas through another hole to heat homes.

There are strong supports for this process. They claim, it is possible to scrub the gas clean of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide once it reaches the surface so that it burns as cleanly as natural gas. It could lead to the exploitation of the huge coalfields under the North Sea and thus we can have abundant clean fossil fuel in the form of natural gas.

But according to the latest report by Friends of the Earth International, it has “left a trail of destruction in its wake across the world”. The report further states that UCG has caused groundwater contamination, subsidence, accidents due to the sinking of land in the area and toxic waste spreading where it has been deployed in Australia, South Africa, and the US. There is an evidence of safety standards problems encountered recently in Queensland, Australia. The state government has accused a UCG company of contaminating 300 sq km of farmland with toxic chemical and explosive gases.

Andrew Nunn, the chief operating officer of Cluff Natural Resources, accepted that a number of foreign UCG projects had failed to meet acceptable standards, but also states, “However the fact remains that a number of modern UCG projects have demonstrated that with appropriate site selection, engineering and operational oversight, the technology is capable of delivering a credible alternative to imported natural gas.”

Only time will tell whether this technology is a blessing or curse!

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