McAlpine demands answers as map reveals Solway coal gas plans

Joan McAlpine MSP has today demanded answers from the company behind a controversial plan to extract coal gas from beneath the Solway – after she obtained a map showing the extent of their ambition.

The South of Scotland SNP member obtained the detailed map from the Coal Authority which issued the license on behalf of the UK Government to allow the company, which has links to Buccleuch Estates, to explore “Underground Coal Gasification.”

The map shows in some detail the area of coastline and seabed affected  – which runs from the South of Annan to just West of Gretna, and takes in the entire estuary down to the Cumbria coast.

UCG involves injecting oxygen into the ground, setting the coal seams alight and releasing gas which is then captured at the surface. The technology has attracted criticism from communities and environmental groups globally after recent experiments in Australia were deemed responsible for releasing toxic pollutants into the environment causing water contamination.

The company who hold the license, Five Quarter, is based in the North East of England and has similar UCG plans for the North Sea.  Buccleuch has a shareholding in Five Quarter and Mark Oddy, the mining manager of Buccleuch Estates, has a seat on the company’s board.

Ms McAlpine says; “The map I obtained from the Coal Authority shows in some detail the area affected, the entire estuary bed from the shore South of Annan to the West of Gretna.  The technique the company plan is controversial and local people deserve to know more about it.

“I have therefore written to the company asking for more information about their intentions and how these might affect the people of Annan, Eastriggs, and Gretna.

Ms McAlpine also said council planners should be aware of the nature of the UCG  method, as they may be asked to give permission to any associated onshore developments.

She said: “We must not have the same culture of secrecy which allowed another Buccleuch mining venture to obtain planning permission for methane gas in Canonbie - before the community knew what was proposed. Fortunately that plan was stymied when the Scottish Government declared a moratorium.”

Miss McAlpine said; “This technology is experimental and I understand that Five Quarter plan to use their own method.  Given that the emissions from UCG are greater than for burning coal above ground, will they tell us what their plans are for carbon capture for example? We also need to know how any plans could affect the use of the Solway by others. It is often claimed by companies like Five Quarter that offshore UCG  is safer because it is some distance from communities.  But this stretch of the Solway  is close to communities, it’s not remote at all.”

Five Quarter has not yet applied for planning permission for any onshore developments associated with the scheme – either in Dumfries and Galloway or Cumbria.  If and when they do Ms McAlpine said it was  imperative that the planning authorities exercise utmost caution.

UCG involves injecting oxygen into the ground, setting the coal seams alight and releasing gas which is then captured at the surface. The technology has attracted criticism from communities and environmental groups globally after recent experiments in Australia were deemed responsible for releasing toxic pollutants into the environment causing water contamination.


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