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Thursday, 30 July 2015

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Experts want to test for gas off the Whitehaven coast

A COMPANY wanting to use underground coal seams to produce gas has been in Whitehaven to look at maps of underground mines.

By Margaret Crosby

The West Cumbrian coalfield is one of five coastal sites around the UK that Cluff Natural Resources is considering with a view to establishing a “coal gasification” operation in deep coal reserves.

Underground coal gasification – or UCG – involves drilling a deep hole and igniting the coal before piping the gas to the surface. By pumping oxygen and steam into the seams, gas is released which can be collected and used to supply the National Grid.

Permits are needed before drilling can start but in the meantime Cluff has asked geologists to do a seismic appraisal and investigate whether the offshore deposits are suitable. The next stage would be to drill an exploratory borehole.

Dr Michael Green, an advisor to Cluff, said: “It will take around three months to look at the geology, then we will decide whether there is any coal and whether it is worth pursuing.

“If it is we would make an application with the local authority and then put it out for consultation, with the public, the mineral committees, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

“This offshore area is one of several we are currently looking at. We hold a conditional licence from the Coal Authority for each of them. If we can access low cost syngas it should create some opportunities for jobs.”

The process is not the same as fracking (hydraulic fracturing) which involves the release of a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas. In UCG, oxygen combusts with the coal-producing synthesis gas (syngas), a combination of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen.

Dr Green was accompanied on his visit to Whitehaven by chairman and chief executive of Cluff Natural Resources, Algy Cluff, who in the 1970s discovered one of the North Sea’s biggest oil fields off Aberdeen.

Cluff says there is no threat to the environment nor any risk to local people. But in Wales, where the company is similarly looking at the Dee and Loughor estuaries, concerns have been raised about environmental impact and the use of new technology, untried in this country. It has also proved controversial among communities at the Firth of Forth in Scotland.

Cluff Natural Resources has five UCG licences in the UK with more applications pending. “Our priority is to advance the planning process to enable us to commence drilling our first demonstrator holes. We believe only limited exploration work is required,” the company says. “These inshore coal areas situated alongside Workington and Whitehaven offer the UK the potential of a secure and long-lasting source of gas for industrial and power generation use, which it is estimated will be cheaper than imported natural gas.”

While in Whitehaven the Cluff representatives met with Britain’s Energy Coast which recently won £225,000 of funding for West Cumbria from the Department of Energy towards the development of low carbon heat propositions for investors.

In Copeland the money will be used to explore the potential of extracting heat from water and gas in disused mineworkings.

Geothermal researchers from Durham University were in Whitehaven last week, at Haig, with a view to compiling a desktop study on the feasibility of bringing up heated water from the mine. It would be used for social housing and domestic purposes. They are working with a team from Sweden where geothermal technology has been used for decades.

Have your say

I know nothing of UCG technology, but I am willing to bet it is costly, dangerous, risky, won't bring any money into Whitehaven (even if it is a success), and is not environmentally-friendly. So lets go for it!

Posted by Claire Voyant on 3 May 2014 at 18:14

Not only is UCG technology "untried in this country", it has only ever been put into full production in a few places in the former USSR. Experimental projects in other parts of the world (notably Australia and Spain) have ended in disaster. Moreover, it has never even been tested in an offshore setting. The environmental risks are as great as for other forms of unconventional energy production, with the added fear of starting underground fires that can't be put out. Why should the people of this country be the guinea pigs for such a dangerous process?

Posted by D Wood on 2 May 2014 at 20:12

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