Energy minister asked for answers on Fife underground coal gasification proposal

Scotland’s energy minister is to be questioned as a matter of urgency over highly controversial plans to set fire to subsea coal seams off Fife.

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Claire Baker is pressing for a meeting with Fergus Ewing to discuss the Scottish Government’s role if the proposals for Largo Bay and Kincardine go ahead.

She has expressed grave concerns about the process known as underground coal gasification (UCG), which she fears will pollute mine water.

Her comments echo those of Levenmouth councillor Tom Adams, who said the Firth of Forth would be used as a test site for the technique, which involves drilling a 12-inch vertical borehole into a coal seam below the sea bed.

The seam is then flushed with oxygen and ignited with a burner with the resulting gas piped to onshore power stations.

Mrs Baker said: “There are real fears that the techniques used will end up polluting mine water and we have not been provided with adequate answers to these concerns.”

“As a matter of urgency I will be questioning the energy minister on his role, if any, if these proposals are to go forward.

“It is important that the Scottish Government are open about any role they will play in granting any of the licences needed by Cluff Natural Resources. The coast of Fife must not be used as a test site.”

Fife Council has described the proposal as a large-scale development which would have a potentially significant impact on the local area and concerns have also been expressed by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The charity said it shares local fears about the possible release of toxic chemicals from the process and called on the Government to concentrate on the development of renewable energy such as wind and wave power.

It now plans to meet the chairmen of every community council in Fife to discuss the potential impact of UCG and fracking for which separate licences have been granted across large swathes of the region.

Fife is one of a number of areas being considered by oil baron Algy Cluff, whose company Cluff Natural Resources has already been given conditional licences by the Coal Authority.

These secure the rights to the coal but operations cannot begin until other permissions, including environmental consent, are in place.

Mrs Baker said: “The proposals to ignite coal seams off the Fife coast are raising serious environmental concerns as well as uncertainty over its potential local impact.

“It is important that all views are heard during such a process and it is extremely disappointing that there has not yet been a public consultation or any local engagement on the issue.”

The MSP will ask what the regulatory regime is for UCG in Scotland, what licences need to be issued and by whom, what discussions the Scottish Government has had with Cluff Natural Resources and how many exploratory licences for UCG have been granted throughout Scotland.

She will also ask how UCG fits with the Scottish Government’s current energy plan.

Keith Winter, executive director with Fife Council, said the local authority is working with Mr Adams regarding the proposals.

“The council is currently considering the role that it may have in terms of regulation or licensing should these proposals be further developed and, planning and environmental applications/permits requested,” he said.

“As this could be a large-scale development with a potentially significant impact on the local area, we will meet with Cluff Natural Resources plc to discuss their proposals.”

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the last thing the world needed is to extract more fossil fuels.

“Scotland is blessed with huge natural resources in wind, wave and tidal power and we should concentrate on developing these renewables industries instead of wasting time with new and potentially dangerous methods of extracting more gas like coal bed methane, fracking and this proposal for underground coal gasification,” he said.

Mr Cluff said UCG would address the UK’s future energy needs, avoid the use of fracking and enable the gas generated to be easily controlled by the supply of oxygen producing enough gas to fuel Britain cheaply and efficiently for hundreds of years.

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