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Energy firm granted licence to extract gas in Thames Estuary

PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 January 2012

Underground Coal Gasification (pic: Clean Coal Ltd)

Underground Coal Gasification (pic: Clean Coal Ltd)

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Licence to explore for gas in offshore site near Medway and Swale

An Australian energy company has been given the green light to extract gas in the Thames Estuary using a technique poised to make strides in the UK’s future energy supply.

Riverside Energy was granted a licence by the UK Coal Authority allowing for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) in the estuary, on an offshore site stretching from Cliffe to Sheerness.

The method – which has received support from the Government – involves turning deep underground coal into gas in-situ by drilling boreholes from the surface and injecting oxygen and steam down one pipe and igniting and partially combusting the coal.

A mixture of gases are then extracted through a second pipe, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane which can be processed to provide fuel for power generation, industrial heating and vehicle fuel.

The UK Coal Authority said the gas can be processed to remove carbon dioxide before it is passed on to end users “thereby providing a source of clean energy with minimum greenhouse gas emissions”.

Under the newly granted licence, Australian company Riverside Energy will be able to drill in the Thames Estuary by Medway and Swale.

A spokesman for the firm confirmed it had been granted a licence for UCG in Kent.

“The area, which is again offshore, is an excellent location with a thriving nearby industrial infrastructure, much of it already engaged in power generation,” he said.

“Nearby sites include a bio-mass plant, coal-fired power plant and the National Grid. As yet no geological exploration of the coal has been undertaken to assess complete sustainability for UCG.”

Chairman of Riverside Energy Dr John Bishop said there was currently no fixed date for start of exploration in the Thames Estuary.

The Environment Agency states that the UK has significant coal reserves that are believed to be suitable for UCG, but which cannot be accessed using conventional methods.

“The government supports the development of UCG and the Coal Authority started issuing exploration licences in 2009.

“It is UK Government policy that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be required if the Synthesis gas (syngas - a gas containing a mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen) is used for power generation.

“However, at the present time, if the syngas is used for other purposes such as producing vehicle fuel then CCS will not be required.

“We will regulate UCG operations in England and Wales.”

The regulation will include health and safety and the monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions.

The UK Coal Authority said the use of UCG would reduce environmental emissions and ensure security of energy supply.

But opponents to the technique said the use of such a method could create environmental problems.

Kent Green Party spokesman Steve Dawe said: “UCG will create greenhouse gas emissions and can contribute to underground water contamination.

“Since it is possible to reduce energy demand in this country by 50-60 per cent by increasing energy conservation in our buildings, according to bodies like the Association for the Conservation of Energy and the Tyndall Centre, there is no reason to permit marginal energy activities which increase any type of emissions.

“This is particularly important as UK greenhouse gas emissions are rising. Our air pollution is so bad the European Court of Justice will be hearing a case to prosecute the UK for failing to keep to air pollution laws to which our Government has previously agreed.

“Kent Green Party wants energy companies to concentrate on energy efficiency and renewable energy since research shows we can cut energy demand, decrease emissions and above all increase useful employment throughout Kent and Medway.”

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