RSPB Scotland has welcomed the news, announced in Scottish Parliament today by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse, that the Scottish Government has ruled out giving the going ahead to any proposals for underground coal gasification in Scotland. The decision was based on emerging evidence of significant environmental impacts of the technology, and the possibility that climate targets could be seriously impacted by developments going ahead.
The announcement was made in response to publication of the review commissioned by the Scottish Government, led by Campbell Gemmell, Professor of Environmental Research at the University of Glasgow and former CEO of SEPA. Prior to the Scottish Government putting in place a moratorium on UCG in October last year in response to concerns about impacts, developers were investigating opportunities for UCG, a form of 'unconventional gas' extraction, at sites in the Firth of Forth, including in areas protected under national and European law for their wildlife importance.
While UCG trials have taken place in other countries, no full-scale project has been demonstrated, and significant uncertainties remain over environmental impacts. Key risks include pollution of aquifers and other water contamination, as well as national considerations of whether further burning of coal resources is compatible with Scotland's climate ambitions.
Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy at RSPB Scotland, said: "We are at a critical time in Scotland where we need to move to sustainable, low carbon energy and at the same time protect our natural environment, which is under ever-increasing pressure.
"Our understanding of the potential impacts of UCG is still limited. Given sites being investigated in the Firth of Forth include some of our most important places for marine wildlife including internationally protected seabirds, we welcome that the Scottish Government has taken a precautionary approach, resisted pressures to rush ahead with this technology and put the protection of the environment and local communities first."
RSPB Scotland are also calling on Scottish Government to confirm that, when the UK leaves the European Union, they will seek to maintain at least an equivalent level of protection for the environment, as is provided for by European law.
Underground coal gasification involves injecting steam and air into a coal seam, which partially combusts to form a gas, for use as a fuel or feedstock. Its aim is to exploit coal which is uneconomic or inaccessible via conventional extraction.
In May this year the RSPB published its 2050 Energy Vision, which set out the need for significant growth of well-sited renewable energy across the UK, as well as strong action on energy efficiency and demand reduction. http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/projects/details.aspx?id=350939