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Underground coal gasification banned by Scottish Government

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse says there is 'no place' for the process.

Underground coal gasification (UCG) will be banned in Scotland, the government has announced.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs there was "no place in Scotland's energy mix" for UCG after an independent review showed the technology posed "numerous and serious environmental risks".

The report by Professor Campbell Gemmell, of Glasgow University, found a history of pollution and loss of containment associated with UCG.

Gas is produced from underground coal seams under the process.

The Scottish Government imposed a moratorium on the technology in October 2015.

Wheelhouse said: "Having considered the report in detail, it is the Scottish Government's view that UCG poses numerous and serious environmental risks, and on that basis the Scottish Government cannot support this technology.

"Accordingly, UCG will have no place in Scotland's energy mix at this time."

The government's wider moratorium on unconventional oil and gas extraction, including fracking, remains in place.

The Scottish Conservatives said they were "deeply disappointed" at the move.

Energy firm Cluff Natural Resources had been planning to use UCG to extract gas from under the Firth of Forth near Kincardine, Fife, and had secured licences from the UK Government's Coal Authority.

The company halted work on the project last year until the political debate on the issue was resolved.

UCG licences in the Firth of Forth and Solway Firth were also held by firm Five Quarter, although the company collapsed earlier this year.

Wheelhouse told MSPs he had written to the UK Government requesting that no further UCG licences were issued for Scotland and that existing licences are revoked.

He said: "On potential impact from UCG, Professor Gemmell's report makes a number of observations which I believe raise serious concerns over the future of this industry in Scotland.

"Firstly, there are very few comprehensive or peer-reviewed studies examining environmental and health impacts, where impacts have been documented these have been from trials rather than from full commercial scale activity.

"Where the industry has operated, which is typically at a pilot or trial scale, there is emerging evidence of significant environmental impacts.

"This includes soil contamination and exposure of workers to toxins resulting from major operation failures, a number of failures in Australia have resulted in prosecutions being brought.

"Professor Gemmell also raises concerns that the current regulatory framework is insufficiently clear and would need to be improved to protect the environment, public health and workers' health and safety."

Quoting from the report from Prof Gemmell, former chief executive of environmental agency Sepa, Mr Wheelhouse said he had concluded that "climate change and de-carbonisation targets would be very seriously impacted by unmitigated releases of UCG greenhouse gases if operated at scale, making the achievement of current or stronger commitments much more difficult, if not impossible".

http://stv.tv/news/east-central/1329168-firth-coal-gas-project-not-in-the-interests-of-the-scottish-people/ | default

The Scottish Conservatives said the government's stance on UCG was "another missed opportunity".

Energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: "It's deeply disappointing that the Scottish Government is taking this stance - it's yet another missed opportunity.

"The SNP has closed the door on shale, and now it's doing the same for underground coal gasification.

"These technologies could create thousands of jobs, boost the economy and lower future energy bills.

"The SNP is at great pains to say how different fracking and UCG are - perhaps their biggest similarity is the SNP's dogmatic objection to them both.

"Even the Scottish Government's own adviser is partially blaming ministers for not having the proper regulatory regime in place as a reason for this not happening.

"If we don't start embracing these technologies, we risk getting left behind altogether."

On the separate issue of fracking, Wheelhouse said the final reports from independent projects commissioned to examine unconventional oil and gas would be published after the October parliamentary recess, to be followed by a period of public consultation over winter 2016/17.

Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens embraced the Scottish Government's decision.

Scottish Labour environment spokesperson Claudia Beamish said: "This is a welcome step, but it must be the first step to a ban on fracking in Scotland.

"The Scottish Parliament voted to ban fracking - the SNP must recognise and accept the will of the Scottish Parliament.

"The concerns that the SNP has used to justify a ban on UCG are the same concerns that motivated this parliament to vote for a ban on fracking.

"The report raises concerns, among others, about the environment, soil contamination and the exposures of workers to toxins. All of these concerns apply to fracking as well."

Lib Dem energy spokesman Liam McArthur said: "Boosting our renewable sector in the face of Tory cuts should be the priority.

"This announcement was the right decision for communities around Scotland. Now we need the government to quickly finish their work on unconventional oil and gas so we can end the uncertainty and take fracking off the table too."

Scottish Greens energy spokesperson Mike Ruskell commented: "It's been a long battle and I congratulate the many communities groups and individuals around Scotland who have stood resolutely against UCG.

"It has taken time for Scottish ministers to realise the devastating impact that this dangerous technology would have on the local environment, workers and our potential to develop low-carbon industries."

Green MSP Andy Wightman also noted the phrasing of the announcement could be interpreted to have left the door open for UCG in future.

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