The firm linked to a contentious coal burning project in the Firth of Forth is deferring its bid for planning permission until after next year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections.
Cluff Natural Resources (CNR) said various factors had influenced its decision, including a Scottish Government moratoruim on unconventional gas extraction, a review of Scotland’s energy requirements, and the election itself, scheduled for May 2016.
The company also said some anti-hydrocarbon groups had misled communities over the process and been guilty of “irresponsible scaremongering”.
CNR stressed it remained fully committed to its flagship project in Kincardine.
It hopes to put £250m into the building of Britain’s first deep offshore underground coal gasification scheme (UCG) venture, believing it could create hundreds of new jobs and secure the UK’s energy supplies for decades.
It also has licences – but again, no permission so far – for UCG at Largo Bay and Dysart, but has said any work is at least a year away.
However, the relatively untested process, which has never been tried offshore, involves drilling a 12-inch vertical borehole into a coal seam beneath the sea bed, flushing it with oxygen, and igniting it with a burner.
Opponents fear an environmental disaster if toxic gases and contaminants leaked into Fife’s rising levels of mine water.
The Scottish Government is being urged to include UCG in its moratorium – and Leven councillor Tom Adams is preparing a motion for Fife Council to call on the Scottish Govnerment to do exactly that.
CNR’s chief operating officer, Andrew Nunn, said the firm had not put the project on hold – merely slowed its rate of progress.
However, environmental campaigners accused it of “running scared”.
Critics have also pointed to recent revelations in Queensland, Australia, with another firm behind a similar project being prosecuted over alleged leaks of explosive gases and toxic chemicals on large stretches of prime agricultural land, causing investigators to be hospitalised.
Mr Nunn said the Kincardine scheme could see more than £1.2 billion invested over the next 30 years, supporting hundreds of new jobs in central Scotland as well as ensuring key energy-intensive industries had access to a reliable and cost-effective source of fuel gas or feedstock.
He added: “There is a small core of anti-hydrocarbon groups who wish to stop all oil and gas development in Scotland. These groups have been very successful in misleading communities about both the significance of local hydrocarbon production to the economy of Scotland and the risks associated with a properly engineered and operated UCG project.
“We recognise the stress this irresponsible scaremongering causes and CNR will continue to work with regulators and other stakeholders in Scotland to ensure local communities are properly informed about this project, the potential benefits and the science behind the various risk mitigation measures, which are designed into it from the outset.
“CNR is committed to ensuring our projects are engineered and operated to the highest standards and will work with regulators and any other group with a constructive agenda around environmental protection, human health improvements and beneficial partnerships with local communities to ensure these standards are met.”
The motion by Cllr Tom Adams is set to be tabled at the full Fife Council meeting on September 17.
The former miner said Fife’s rising levels of mine water had been a concern for many years, and possible contamination from a UCG trial, with various chemicals, aluminium, and other carcinogens, could add up to a “lethal concoction”. Flick Monk, of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “Cluff’s change of mind is testament to the huge level of organised opposition to unconventional gas within the communities around the Firth of Forth. 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, which has put out a powerful call to get UCG included in the current moratorium on unconventional gas.
“Cluff has now revised its plans twice regarding the Kincardine UCG project, clearly because it is aware of how unwanted the development is by communities living around the Forth. UCG is a highly risky technology that has caused widespread environmental damage in test projects around the world.”