Anger as energy firm aims to burn coal under Forth

The Kincardine licence covers 37.6 square kilometres. Picture: Michael Gillen
The Kincardine licence covers 37.6 square kilometres. Picture: Michael Gillen
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THE energy firm behind a controversial bid to burn coal under the Firth of Forth to create gas has blamed political uncertainty as it said work on a planning application is now likely to be postponed.

Cluff Natural Resources highlighted factors including the energy commission recently set up by the Scottish Government, a motion at the SNP conference calling for a ban on underground coal gasification (UCG) and the Scottish parliamentary elections next May.

But North Sea veteran Algy Cluff, who heads the company, said he was still committed to the project to build Britain’s first UCG plant.

“It remains our avowed intention to seek approval to install a pilot plant as soon as is practicable to generate limited production from the Firth of Forth before constructing Britain’s first UCG plant,” said Cluff, who is chairman and chief executive of the company.

In comments seen as being aimed at political opposition to the plans, Cluff also said the project was in line with calls for Scottish independence as it would be a “major advance towards Scottish energy self-sufficiency”.

Announcing the firm’s interim financial results yesterday, Cluff said gasification of coal in the Firth of Forth was “entirely consonant with the concept of Scottish independence”.

He added: “Certain correspondence recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act between myself and the Scottish Government make it manifestly clear that, as we see it, the interest of Scotland and of the development of UCG are synonymous.

“Indeed the same argument applies to the whole of the United Kingdom as our coal-fired power stations are taxed into oblivion without any coherent policy being in place to bridge the disturbing gap between sufficiency and calamity.”

Cluff said the company had been “very active” in recent months in preparing the ground for the submission of a planning application and that there was now a much better understanding of UCG at local and national levels.

But he said the company had “deemed it prudent” to await clarity on the political issues before committing fully to the expense of an environmental impact study, which meant work on a planning application was likely to be postponed.

Estimates suggest there are 335 million tonnes of coal under the Firth in Cluff’s Kincardine licence area – more than 43 million tonnes of which it said was suitable for UCG.

The process sees the coal drilled and mixed with oxygen to produce a fuel-gas mixture which can be used to power boilers and turbines. The company estimates the project could produce enough gas to power around 15 million homes for a year.

The Kincardine licence covers an area of 37.6 square kilometres of tidal estuary waters and according to Cluff is close to a number of energy-intensive industries “which could benefit from a new low-cost source of fuel gas and petrochemical feedstock”.

Flick Monk, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s unconventional gas campaigner, welcomed Cluff’s announcement.

“Cluff’s decision to indefinitely put off plans to apply for planning permission is testament to the huge level of organised opposition to unconventional gas within the local communities around the Forth,” she said.