A former member of the UN Expert Group on Climate Change and Chemicals has backed calls by Joan McAlpine MSP for a coal gas extraction company to answer questions about their plans for the Solway Firth.
Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, who now serves on the Advisory Group of the national chemical regulator in Australia, also questioned the company's attempts to portray Underground Coal Gasification (UGC) as a form of clean energy.
The CEO of Five Quarter, Harry Bradbury, last week attacked Ms McAlpine in DnG Media for making her concerns public in the paper and suggested that his company website provided sufficient information on Five Quarter's proposals.
However Dr Lloyd Smith backed the MSP saying:
“I support Ms McAlpine’s continued efforts to ensure that any proposal for UCG is publicized. The response of Five Quarter to ridicule her concerns is simply following a well-worn path that many companies have used with other forms of unconventional gas exploration.
“The claims by Five Quarter that their technology is a more sophisticated and safer form of UCG is not supported by the information they have provided. Their claims of the beneficial reuse of carbon dioxide are simply claims and similar to many other companies claims, yet to materialise."
Ms McAlpine wrote to Five Quarter Energy Holdings seeking answers after she obtained a Coal Authority map showing the extent of their ambition in the Solway. She made constituents aware in the pages of the Annandale Observer.
Buccleuch Estates, the landownder behind controversial onshore gas extraction proposals in Canonbie, have a shareholding in Five Quarter and their mining manager Mark Oddy sits of the company’s board.
In a letter to the local papers last week Dr Bradbury dismissed the concerns raised by Ms McAlpine and suggested that methods were similar to "keyhole surgery" and perfectly safe.
However Dr Lloyd Smith said the Australian experience proved otherwise.
"Here in Australia, Energy firm Linc faces criminal charges over allegations of serious environmental harm at one sight with the environment department's probe finding 'irreversible damage' was done. The residents living in the region have long complained about 'Linc's Big Stink' and the recent detection of toxic compounds associated with combustion and syngas in the soil of properties surrounding the facility has added another layer of concern about this technology. The residents are now highly restricted in what they can do with their farms as in most cases they are not allowed to disturb the soil.
“The Queensland government has decided not to support the commercialisation of the technology as the companies have not shown they could control the underground combustion at the end of the process.”
Ms McAlpine welcomed Dr Lloyd Smith's comments.
“I am delighted to have the support of Dr Lloyd Smith who has over two decades experience in the field of chemicals and waste management. She was an author of Australia’s national management plans for hazardous waste and a member of the UN Expert Group on Climate Change and Chemicals. She is indisputably an authority on the subject and I hope that Five Quarter will not be so dismissive of her views.”
In a letter to DnG Media this week Ms McAlpine said that Dr Bradbury was wrong to imply that his company's so-called "Deep Gas Winning” was not Underground Coal Gasification (UCG).
She said "It is in fact a term trademarked by Five Quarter to describe a method of UCG. The exploratory Coal Authority licence Five Quarter gained for the Solway is for UCG."
Dr Bradbury insisted he would not be igniting coal seams beneath the ground but would inject oxygen or steam into the rock. But Ms McAlpine said the oxygen was used to start combustion to create gas - resulting in very high temperatures and huge amounts of carbon dioxide as well as toxins.
She also pointed out that that Professor Stuart Haszeldine, the UK's foremost authority on Carbon Capture and Storage, said it was untried in UCG projects such as those proposed by Five Quarter.