The multi-millionaire oil tycoon, Algy Cluff, is delaying a planning application to gasify coal under the Firth of Forth in the face of mounting political opposition.
In a statement to shareholders, he discloses that “work on a planning application will likely be postponed until after such time as the political situation is more certain.” The application to pilot underground coal gasification (UCG) by test drilling off Kincardine in Fife was originally due to be made this autumn, but was later changed to next year.
But now Cluff does not put a date on when the application might be, blaming “external factors”. These include, he says, a Scottish Government commission to review Scotland’s energy needs, a motion at the SNP party conference calling for UCG to be included in the fracking moratorium and the Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2016.
These moves all “have the ability to impact the development of the Kincardine project,” he says. “Accordingly we have deemed it prudent to await clarity on these matters before committing fully to, in particular, the expense of an environmental impact study.”
Cluff insists, however, that he is still committed to developing UCG in the Forth, and that work is continuing with regulators and the US oil giant, Halliburton, on technical aspects. “It remains our avowed intention to seek approval to install a pilot plant as soon as is practicable to generate limited production from the Firth of Forth before constructing Britain’s first UCG plant,” he says.
Cluff’s statement refers to his correspondence lobbying the Scottish Government on UCG, which was published by The Ferret last month after it was released under freedom of information law. Earlier this week, The Ferret also reported on a £3 government million law suit on alleged contamination of over 300 square kilometres around a UCG plant in Queensland, Australia.
This month local SNP MPs met representatives from Cluff’s company, Cluff Natural Resources. “I am delighted with the Cluff announcement and hopefully we can find ways of making this postponement permanent ,” says Dunfermline and West Fife MP, Douglas Chapman.
The SNP’s “direction of travel” on unconventional gas was a “major contributory factory” in getting the proposal shelved, he argues. “I felt there were significant gaps in the company’s approach, especially around the geology of this part of the Forth and whether an environmental appraisal would meet the strict guidelines already in place.”
I am delighted with the Cluff announcement and hopefully we can find ways of making this postponement permanent. SNP MP Douglas Chapman
The postponement is also welcomed by environmental groups. “Cluff’s change of mind is testament to the huge level of organised opposition to unconventional gas within the local communities around the Firth of Forth,” says Flick Monk, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“This is great news for all those who have campaigned against this crazy scheme to burn coal seams under the Forth. Cluff is clearly running scared at the strength of feeling within both the community and the SNP grassroots membership.”
She adds: “Underground coal gasification is a highly risky technology that has caused widespread environmental damage in test projects around the world.” It is now time for the Scottish Government to include UCG in its fracking moratorium, she argues.
Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland, also calls for UCG to be included in the moratorium. “Despite all their bluff and bluster, it’s clear that Cluff’s plans to burn coal under the North Sea are in real trouble ,” he says.
But in his statement, Cluff argues that UCG “would represent a major advance towards Scottish energy self-sufficiency and is therefore entirely consonant with the concept of Scottish independence.” He criticises the planning system for inhibiting UCG and fracking developments and urges that planning powers be taken away from local authorities.
“Planning for approvals for energy related projects should be vested in the control of central government,” he warns. “The existing system is not consistent with the construction of a safe, economic and secure energy policy – indeed I fear parts of the UK deteriorating into industrial wastelands unless a sense of real urgency evolves rapidly.”
Cover image: Peter Dollive | www.wildlifeextra.com