It’s called Underground Coal Gasification, or UCG, and energy companies plan to turn the UK into a massive testing ground
[EF! Editor’s note: For a look at the possible future this could bring, check out the wikipedia article on Centralia, Pennsylvania, where an underground coal seam caught fire in 1962 and is still burning to this day, leaving the town almost entirely abandoned.]
Just when we were all getting to grips with fracking, another mind-blowingly stupid and dangerous form of extreme energy extraction gains momentum. And it’s no distant threat: licences have been sold for some time, 21 so far just off the coast in places like Swansea Bay, and now companies are boasting to investors that production is imminent. Watch out, Wales, Northumberland and Warwickshire among others.
Burn, baby, burn – CO2 inferno!
[Underground coal gasification] is designed to exploit un-minable coal, of which the UK has an abundant supply, running into billions of tonnes. It involves the same drilling technology as fracking, but as coal can’t float up pipes like natural gas can, it – and this is the hellfire inferno-esque insanity bit – is partially burned in fires far below the earth’s surface below water tables. The carbon monoxide / hydrogen mix that’s produced is then processed in power plants on the surface.
A report into the environmental devastation that UCG could cause if production went full-scale claimed: “If an additional 4 trillion tonnes were extracted without the use of carbon capture or other mitigation technologies atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels could quadruple–resulting in a global mean temperature increase of between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius.” Shit.
As with fracking and coal bed methane (CBM), the drilling also comes with the serious risk of subsistence and rock fractures, and leaks of contaminants into water sources. We have a pretty clear idea of the devastation caused by these extreme energy extraction techniques; UCG however, has had a patchy history of explosions, pollution and aborted tests.
If the UCG’s pitch to UK investors is to be believed the UK is set to become an industrial scale testing ground. Testing in the Australian outback resulted in severe contamination of water sources with benzene. Word in the industry is that, unlike the shaky predictions for successful shale gas fracking in the long-term, UCG is being taken seriously by government and industry as a Peak Oil ‘Plan B’.
Up the Cluff
The companies involved include Cluff Coal Ltd and Five-Quarter. Cluff are in the midst of a PR blitz as they claim they’re about to buy another four licences on top of the two they currently hold. One of which is, unprecedentedly, on-shore in the Warwickshire countryside. Five-Quarter own licences from Newcastle up the coast of Northumberland – the threat is that the North Sea will see some UCG action this summer, with government grants to do it.
Previous tests suggest that if done at all UCG should be kept away from inhabited areas, and should be sited where no groundwater can be contaminated. In the rush for gas, these pesky nanny-state safety precautions have been pushed aside. According to SchNEWS‘ scientific research department, the effects on the climate would be ‘apocalyptic’ were UCG ever to go ahead.