Holyrood blocks underground coal gasification

Prof Campbell Gemmell

The Scottish Government said it will not support underground coal gasification (UCG) developments in Scotland “following the publication of an independent report that highlights serious environmental concerns.”

The Scottish Conservatives criticised the decision, claiming UCG could provide thousands of jobs and inject millions of pounds into the economy.

Professor Campbell Gemmell of University of Glasgow was asked to undertake an independent examination of UCG.

Having received his report, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse updated Parliament on the Scottish Government’s response to the findings.

The report found that it would appear logical “to progress toward a ban” of UCG based on a number of reasons including:

• the UCG industry has a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment
• UCG presents a serious issue to face in reducing Scotland’s carbon/greenhouse gas emissions without an operational storage method, such as carbon capture

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.

“In Professor Gemmell’s report he recommends it would be wise to consider an approach to UCG based upon a precautionary presumption against the technology, and that it would appear logical to progress toward a ban.

“I cannot predict what kind of clean energy technologies may be available in the decades to come, but what is certain is that this this resource will still be there.

“As a result of today’s announcement, our Energy Strategy for Scotland will set out an energy mix for the future that does not include UCG.

“The position I have announced on UCG is a clear validation of the evidence-based approach this government is taking and I thank Professor Gemmell for his work in preparing the report.”

Wheelhouse has written to the UK Government requesting that it issues no further UCG licences in Scotland and that existing licences are revoked.

The Scottish Government will continue to use planning powers to ensure UCG applications do not receive planning or environmental permission.

Gemmell, Professor of Environment Research, Policy, Regulation and Governance at the University of Glasgow, said: “I have consulted widely, including with industry, communities, regulators, academic specialists and NGOs, and studied the available evidence on the technologies and impacts involved in Underground Coal Gasification, including the variety of international experience.

“It is extremely difficult to conceive of UCG progressing into use at this time.

“Despite there being few longer-term operations at scale to consider, and no directly comparable operations in siting, regulatory and policy terms, there is both a history of incidents of pollution and losses of containment.

“In my view, the Scottish Government has responded appropriately to the available evidence on this technology.

“Should industry wish to progress this technology at scale here or overseas at some future date, several key factors would need to be addressed, including managing the potential impact of the greenhouse gases produced.

“The onus would also clearly be with the industry to demonstrate and provide evidence that it can operate to the high environmental standards that the government and public should expect.”

Scottish Conservative 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.”