Coal plan: We have to work together ...

Algy Cluff. Pic by George McCluskie
Algy Cluff. Pic by George McCluskie

Discussions over a controversial gas extraction process are hotting up after the man who has been granted a 
licence to carry it out in waters around Fife visited Levenmouth.

Algy Cluff, chief executive of Cluff Natural Resources (CNR), attended a meeting along with over 100 members of the public at the FRIC in Methil last week to discuss Underground Coal Gasification (UCG).

Algy Cluff (left) and Keith Leighfield (right)

Algy Cluff (left) and Keith Leighfield (right)

And he faced a number of questions from worried locals, eager for assurances over the safety of the process, which has not yet been tested off-shore.

CNR has been granted a licence to carry out deep UCG in the Firth of Forth at Largo Bay and Kincardine, although the company is still carrying out feasibility studies.

During his opening presentation, Mr Cluff told the meeting that UCG was essential to deal with the “energy crisis” currently facing Britain as North Sea oil reserves decrease.

He said: “I believe coal is the fuel of the future. I firmly believe that our ability to gasify coal without the need to mine it will provide abundant energy for years to come.”

Mr Cluff added that the Forth had “deep and abundant” coal reserves which could be “cheaply, quickly and safely” converted to gas and piped ashore.

Also at the meeting was Keith Leighfield, former chief surveyor for British Coal - now a CNR consultant - who explained how the process would be carried out.

A vertical borehole is drilled into the coal seam, and grouted into the ground to avoid any leakage out of the top. Oxygen is piped into the coal and ignited, which results in a gas which can be piped ashore.

Following the presentation, a number of residents voiced their concerns, sparking a hot debate.

One man told the panel UCG would happen in Fife “over my dead body”.

Many people appeared angry and discouraged by the information provided by the panel, with many questions left unanswered.

Mr Cluff added: “We didn’t have to hold this meeting but we volunteered to do so because we want to carry the people with us.”

Speaking to the Mail afterwards, Mr Leighfield said: “This was the first of a series of meetings that we hope to 

“The only way we are going to move forward is if we take the community we’re going to work with along with us.

“The meeting was the first step, and I hope that as we take more steps, they will get to know CNR and work with us, and eventually both sides will win.

‘‘But that won’t happen if we end up at loggerheads and don’t meet - that’s not the way forward.”

Councillor Tom Adams, who organised the meeting, said: “I thought it was successful, although maybe we didn’t get as much information out of it as we would have liked on the actual process of UCG.

“But I thought Mr Leighfield answered the questions quite well.”

He added: “I was a wee bit disappointed with the ‘anti-brigade’.

‘‘When a public meeting like that takes place, there should be an opportunity to ask questions and get answers. There were people there to answer their questions, so if they had asked them instead of making statements, maybe we would have got more information.”

“If CNR is really serious about going ahead, they need to keep the public informed all the way down the line. ”

David Torrance MSP, who also attended, added: “I hope that CNR will adhere to the promises made at this meeting to consult and listen to the views of people in the area as the various proposals are taken forward in the future.”

Questions from floor: How does this work?

How can CNR ensure the safety of people and the environment when the process has not been tested?

How do CNR plan to control the coal once it is ignited?

How will CNR work alongside the government’s carbon neutral/carbon capture plans?

How can CNR ensure mine water will not contaminate the process?

How can CNR guarantee the concrete around the borehole will not crack?

Where would the infrastructure needed to pipe gas ashore at Largo Bay be situated?

Is the current environmental regulatory system robust enough to deal with this kind of technology?

Will an off-shore test be carried out before work is put into practice?

What will this do for the people of Fife?