Scotland orders moratorium on underground coal gasification

by Search Gate staff. Published Thu 08 Oct 2015 10:33, Last updated: 2015-10-08
Scotland calls a halt on controversial technique
Scotland calls a halt on controversial technique

The Scottish Government has today put in place a moratorium on underground coal gasification (UCG) in Scotland.

This is separate to the existing moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing – and comes as ministers have also informed Parliament that the Government will carry out a thorough and wide-ranging research process into the potential impacts of such onshore techniques.

The moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas was announced by the Energy Minster Fergus Ewing in January, when he set out plans for a full public consultation and outlined a programme of research work including:

* A full public health impact assessment

* Further work to strengthen planning guidance

* Further tightening of environmental regulation.

Since then the Government has undertaken a series of meetings with the key stakeholder groups including environmental NGOs, industry, local government and community organisations. Those meetings have helped inform the government’s decision to extend the planned work which will also now also include:

* Transport impacts research

* Seismic monitoring research

* Consideration of decommissioning and aftercare

* Climate change impacts research

* Economic impacts research.

This work comes further to an independent Scientific Panel report on unconventional oil and gas which has already been undertaken.

Ministers published the planned research and public consultation timetable today and confirmed that the public consultation will begin once the research process has been finalised and the results published. This will give the public a chance to study the research reports before taking part in the public consultation. The detailed evidence-gathering phase will take place between now and next summer, with the consultation phase, covering engagement, public consultation and analysis, due to conclude in spring 2017.

In line with the cautious, evidence-based approach adopted by the Scottish Government, a separate moratorium on Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) will allow the necessary time for full and careful consideration of the potential impacts of this new technology. Ministers have been clear that these are two separate technologies, subject to different licensing regimes, and hence will be considered separately. The Scottish Government has appointed Professor Campbell Gemmell, former CEO of SEPA, to lead an independent examination of the issues and evidence surrounding UCG. This will include working closely with communities and stakeholders to understand the issues of most concern to them.

Mr Ewing said: “The studies announced today constitute an extremely thorough and wide-ranging examination of the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas and underlines the Scottish Government policy of taking a precautionary, robust and evidence-based approach to this technology in stark contrast to the gung-ho approach of the UK Government.

“Ministers have held meetings with representatives of environmental non-governmental organisations, community groups, industry bodies and local government. Those meetings have helped us to prepare for the research and public consultation processes. As a result, we have planned a robust and thorough research process and a wide-ranging and participative consultation process.

“The public will understandably wish to study the outcome of the research process and thus the public consultation will not begin until the findings of the research process have been published.

“Scotland’s moratorium into onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction was welcomed by both environmental campaigners and industry representatives. It will remain in place as the research and public consultation is undertaken.

"We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies – but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are all fully taken account of. The research we propose in this timetable will give all interested stakeholders important information to allow a more informed debate during the public consultation.

“In line with our evidence-led approach we are today also putting in place a moratorium on the onshore planning of underground coal gasification developments to allow time for full and careful consideration of the potential impacts of this technology for Scotland.”

In line with the Government’s evidence-led approach, boreholes relating to unconventional oil & gas will only be permitted when research and geoscience is the key driver and where they are delivered in collaboration with an independent research body, such as the British Geological Survey, or academic institution, and for the purposes of furthering the evidence base on unconventional oil and gas. Any proposed boreholes would also have to gain planning permission, environmental and health and safety consents before they are allowed.

While powers to award onshore unconventional licences are being devolved to Scottish Ministers, powers to award operators exclusive rights to exploit coal resources for UCG rest with the UK Government/Coal Authority and there are no live proposals to devolve these to Scotland. As a result, the moratorium on UCG will be implemented at Scottish Planning Authority level.

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Well done to Fergus Ewing for announcing this important new moratorium. Underground coal gasification is a risky and experimental technique, with a very chequered history around the world. This industry clearly deserves the same public scrutiny as shale gas fracking and coal bed methane.”

Church continued: "We warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s detailed timetable for action, and the extended research remit announced today. This framework for reviewing shale gas fracking and coalbed methane looks like a well designed process, over a sensible timescale. The experience from the growing number of states and regions around the world with bans and moratoriums is clear that undertaking a thorough review of unconventional gas cannot be rushed.

"We strongly urge individuals and communities to fully engage with this process and make their opposition to this dirty industry clear. All too often the millions spent on PR by big corporations can crowd out the voices of affected communities and those speaking up for the environment and public health when it comes to important policy or decisions like this. INEOS and others have big budgets at their disposal to get their points across. It is vital that people the length and breadth of Scotland who don't want to see the central belt wrecked by the fossil fuel industry make their voice count in this review.

"There is a growing body of evidence from around the world that fracking for shale gas, extracting coal-bed methane and the underground coal gasification process poses unacceptable risks for human health and the environment. In December 2014 New York State joined a number of countries and regions in deciding to banning fracking after undertaking a two-year assessment on the impacts of fracking on human health and the environment.

"We are particularly glad that climate change impacts are to be the subject of detailed study. In the context of our international obligations to cut emissions it would be completely irresponsible for a hydrocarbon-rich nation like Scotland to open up a new frontier of fossil fuels, further exacerbating the climate crisis.

"We are confident that when the evidence is independently assessed and the Scottish public have had a chance to voice their concerns, this consultation will lead to a full ban on unconventional gas and fracking."

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: "The Scottish Government is to be congratulated for putting in place a moratorium on underground coal gasification.

“There is overwhelming public opinion in favour of cleaner forms of energy and a sufficient body of evidence why unconventional oil and gas are neither good for people or the planet. While this rightly puts a hold on underground coal gasification for now, we hope the final decision will be to rule it out completely.

"The science is clear, to protect our climate the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned."

The announcement comes on the same day that new data was published showing wind power output in Scotland during September jumped more than 80% compared to the same period last year.

Commenting on the data, Banks added: “Thanks to a combination of increased capacity and stronger winds, output from turbines was up more than 80 per cent compared to the same period last year – supplying power equivalent to the electrical needs of one and a half million homes.

"These figures show that renewables work and are already creating jobs, boosting the economy, and helping to cut pollution. There's already an estimated 21,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in Scotland – a number that could grow even further if we don't get distracted by unnecessary unconventional oil and gas."

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