A licence has been granted to allow the controversial method of gas extraction, Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), to be utilised in attempts to extract gas from the coal bed beneath the Dee estuary. The controversy surrounds the health and safety issues of the UCG method and it is one of the three unconventional techniques often referred to as ‘Fracking’. The Point of Ayr Licence covers 6,953 Hectares and was sold by DECC to Cluff Natural Resources Ltd (1).
UCG is a process that is still largely in it’s ‘proof and development’ stages. It is an attempt at reaching the coal which is currently inaccessible via conventional extraction techniques. Twin vertical shafts are drilled down into the ground until they reach the coal bed then, deep underground, horizontal shafts are drilled along the seam and the coal is set alight. Once the combustion has started, the fire is starved of oxygen in order to produce a mixture of gases including Syngas, which is extracted for processing at the surface. A wide variety of toxic hydrocarbons are also produced and of particular concern are Benzene, Toluene and other Phenols.
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Some small scale processes have taken place in Turkey, Hungary, South Africa, USA & Australia aiming to prove UCG’s commercial viability (2). A number of publicised failures have followed including contamination of ground water from Benzene, Toluene and Phenols. Following Hoe Creek Trials in the 1970s, phenols were detected up to 30 metres from the burn cavity. Almost 20 years later a Department of Energy (USA) report concluded that the resulting groundwater contamination posed a significant risk to humans and livestock(3).
In 2010 Cougar Energy’s demonstration plant in Kingaroy, Australia was shut down after just 5 days when an independent scientific panel detected Benzene and Toluene in groundwater, as well as in the fat of grazing cattle (4). Benzene concentrations in groundwater were 45 times the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
As the UCG process becomes better understood, there are concerns that the toxic by-products cannot be reliably contained and therefore the local population’s health and safety may not be adequately protected (5). Now the UCG industry brings its trials to the Dee estuary meaning the people living nearby in addition to the unique flora and fauna of the area could be at threat from the associated risks.
Meanwhile, over on the Wirral concerned residents have formed the community group Wirral Against Fracking (WAF) and have been campaigning for the last twelve months to raise public awareness about these plans for the Dee estuary. There are fifteen anti-fracking community groups who have formed across Wirral, Cheshire, North Wales and North Shropshire and together they have formed a coalition called Frack Free Dee (FFDee) in order to pool their resources in the fight against fracking.
Members of FFDee are gravely concerned about the lack of public awareness in Flintshire and Denbighshire regarding the risks of UCG and are holding two public awareness meetings for the communities local to the Point of Ayr. There will be a factual presentation about the Fracking industry as a whole and how communities are opposing it. There will also be an opportunity for the audience to ask questions at the end of the meeting.
FFDee hope to provide local residents adequate information so they can make their own informed decision whether they want UCG to take place in their own Welsh communities.
Find the FFDee Information stall on Monday 4th May 2015 at the Llanasa Car Boot Sale.
The Public Awareness Events are –
Wed 13th May 2015 (7.30pm start) – Old Tavern Inn, Coast Road, Mostyn, CH8 9DX.
Thurs 21st May 2015 (7.30pm start) – Prestatyn Constitutional Club, 15 Eden Ave, Prestatyn, LL19 9DL.
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Licence area Point of Ayr – Flintshire/Wirral (1)
UCG small scale test plants (2) –
Environmental Issues in UCG (Hoe Creek Example) (3)
Cougar Energy Shut Down after only 5 days (4)
Couger Energy Report
Contamination of groundwater due to UCG(5)
A good account of UCG trials with refs
Frack Free Dee
Wirral Against Fracking