Smoke and mirrors of extreme energy extraction

Companies state that UCG is not fracking, is this an atempt to make it sound safe and promote it as a method of energy extraction?

Don’t let the smoke and mirrors cloud the true perception, don’t believe the myths.  Extracting gas by means of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is a highly polluting extraction process which around the world has been largely unsuccessful with disastrous consequences.

What is UCG?

  • Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) involves setting fire to coal underground.
  • The underground fire is starved of oxygen creating synthetic gas (syngas) which can be brought to the surface.
  • This partial burning of the coal happens underground creating toxic and carcinogenic coal tars that pose a significant threat to the environment.
  • At the surface, toxic and explosive gasses emerge at high temperatures mixed with huge volumes of liquid waste (condensate), carbon dioxide and other combustion products from the coal.
  • To produce significant amounts of gas UCG would require multiple drill sites and massive processing facilities located onshore. Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) is a classic example of extreme energy in action.

This is process was given the green light for the Thames Estuary between Southend and the North Kent coast in 2012 when the UK government granted a licence to extract gas from under the Thames Estuary.  Many would consider this to  irresponsibly stupid if  since the area includes the WW2 wreck of the Richard Montgomery still loaded with an estimated 1400 tonnes of explosives which for a long time has considered to be unstable. The UCG permit is also in close proximity to the massive Isle of Grain  gas import and storage facility.

The validity of the whole process should also be questioned taking into account developments around the globe ……

The process of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) in the UK has been proven unsound in other countries.  The Queensland Government has uncovered severe contamination of 320km2 of farmland surrounding Linc Energy’s UCG test site at Chinchilla, which resulted in criminal charges against the directors of an Australian company.  Toxic Syngas from underground fires has caused severe pollution to ground water, soil and air, putting hundreds of square kilometers of prime agricultural land west of Brisbane at risk.

Despite these findings, UCG speculators Cluff Natural Resources and Five Quarter Energy are pushing ahead with plans for pilot projects and production in the UK. The government has granted 27 licences for UCG just offshore, but close to large population centers.

The government appears to have ignored evidence that  vast majority of small scale trials of UCG over the last 80 years have invariably resulted in severe water contamination and/or explosions. Both Cluff and Five Quarter have previously denied that UCG is experimental and has a track record of failure.  Five Quarter, which held 10 UK licences, called opponents of the technology “alarmist” and are known to have threatened a number of organisations and individuals with legal action.  Although Five Quarter ceased trading the licences will be acquired by a competitor and the threat is far from over.

The 320km2 (10km radius in red) area effected by pollution created around the Linc trial is very significant for UK communities living close to UCG licence areas. Hundreds of thousands of people live within a 10km radius of these sites earmarked for UCG.


UCG isn’t safe, it’s an experimental technology with a track record of failure!

  • 1987 Rocky Mountain, Wyoming – High levels of benzene and other carcinogenic contaminants were forced  into groundwater.
  • 1997 El Tremedal, Spain – Drill site explosion and blowout of toxic water, Syngas escaped the burn cavity to  surrounding rock strata.
  • 1999 Linc Energy, Chinchilla, Queensland – Test discontinued, 300km2 of farmland contaminated with toxic gas. Company charged with causing serious environmental harm (2015).
  • 2007 Eskom, Majuba, South Africa – Two well failures and high volumes of liquid waste caused disposal problems. The Syngas produced contained toxic and corrosive hydrogen sulphide.
  • 2010 Cougar Energy, Kingaroy, Queensland – The Kingaroy UCG well exploded after only five days of operation and resulted in carcinogenic benzene and toluene being detected in groundwater and in the fat of animals grazing in fields at the surface. Prosecuted & Fined (2013).

The major environmental concerns for UCG stem from subsidence, water contamination and greenhouse gas emissions.  UCG is based on unproven technology, the whole process is considered to present a greater riskier than fracking, with a high risk of severe environmental damage:

  • poisonous leaks and subsidence.
  • risk to  public health in densely populated area.
  • ground water contamination,

In October 2016 after high profile campaigns the Scottish government banned UCG (as it has fracking), however, as with fracking, the rest of the UK is still at risk.  The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the government was “minded to not support” the technique but has not enacted an ban or withdrawn any licences.

Research for this article was partly obtained from

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