MSP Joan McAlpine today (Thursday) asked local Tories to support the SNP’s move to outlaw a controversial gas blast technique which had threatened communities and the environment on the Solway.
The SNP questioned the energy minister Paul Wheelhouse in parliament after he announced that the SNP government would use its planning powers to oppose the controversial Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) method.
Ms McAlpine, who campaigned against the proposed UCG extraction near Gretna, welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement but expressed concern that licences for the Solway are controlled by the Conservative UK government.
Mr Wheelhouse revealed that the Solway licences were due to expire this year – but he had written to UK Tory ministers asking for reassurances that these would not be renewed. The company which planned to drill under the firth, Five Quarter, is now defunct and has abandoned its plans. Its major shareholders included Buccleuch Estates.
Ms McAlpine welcomed this news but expressed concern that many Tories appeared supportive of the technology which involves combusting coal seams underground and syphoning off the toxic gases produced.
The Scottish Conservatives claimed they were "deeply disappointed" by the SNP block on UGC with energy spokesman Alexander Burnett calling it "yet another missed opportunity".
Ms McAlpine has now called on the local Tories to demand that their colleagues at Westminster withdraw all licences.
She said she was alarmed that many Conservative politicians continued to promote UGC, which an extensive report, undertaken by independent Professor Campbell Gemmell, for the Scottish Government said could not be regulated safely.
"The Tories have been crawing over UCG. Murdo Fraser MSP was even pushing for it this afternoon, in spite of the report pointing out the environmental and safety risks associated with the practice.
"Why are the Conservative so keen to destroy the local environment and put constituents health at risk?"
Today's report, on the back of an extensive research and consultation process, stated that UCG would make it more difficult, if not impossible to meet climate change targets.
The research also highlighted serious environmental concerns, particularly through contamination of ground water, and risks of explosions. It is not commercially practised anywhere in the world and a pilot project was abandoned in Australia after contamination occurred.
Ms McAlpine said:
“UCG has been described by environmental groups as 'the most experimental and frightening method of unconventional gas extraction’.”
“I have been outspoken about the practice ever since I discovered the UK Coal Authority had issued conditional licences for UCG in the Solway Firth.”
“While the company folded and the licence is about to run out in December, I'm pleased that the Scottish Government has written to the UK Energy Secretary to ask for all current licences in Scotland to be revoked.”
The Scottish Government does not have the authority to issue an outright ban on UCG as energy policy is reserved to Westminster. However it has made clear that it will use its planning powers to ensure no UCG takes place in Scotland.