Fears over how green gas plans will turn out to be

A map showing the licence areas for Five-Quarter's Deep Gas Winning technology.
A map showing the licence areas for Five-Quarter's Deep Gas Winning technology.

The company behind a scheme to extract gas from below the North Sea is keen to stress its environmental credentials, but some remain unconvinced.

As reported in last week’s Gazette, Alnwick Area Friends of the Earth held a meeting to find out more about Five-Quarter’s proposals for Deep Gas Winning off the north Northumberland coast.

It was addressed by the company’s Professor Paul Younger and Simon Bowens, North East campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

In terms of environmental risks, Professor Younger tried to underline the green background of those involved, while making reference to carbon capture and storage (see below).

He said that the process took place nowhere near aquifers, that seismicity is not an issue in the North East, although they are well aware of the faults in the region and that the North Eas had a clean safety record in terms of gas explosions underground.

But Mr Bowens was critical of the Government’s push to support the extraction of unconventional gas such as fracking from shale gas and underground coal gasification (UCG).

He referred to the history of UCG and the recent problems in Queensland, Australia, which have seen firms taken to court by the state for environmental breaches.

He added: “There are differences, I accept, between what Five-Quarter do and traditional UCG, but is this a risk you are happy to live with in your community?”

Mr Bowens was also concerned that the Government required Strategic Environmental Assessments from those firms bidding to carry out fracking, while the Coal Authority had made no such requirements for DGW, meaning people hadn’t been able to have their say through public consultation.

Viewpoints on carbon capture and storage

One of the pledges of the Five-Quarter team is that their process will involve the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to try to prevent further emissions contributing to global warming.

At the meeting, Professor Younger said: “If we can’t do it with CCS, we don’t want to do it.” He also said that the plant, which would take around four years to build, ‘will be ready to deal with it from the start’.

However, there was a difference of opinion about how effective CCS technology was.

Mr Bowens said that currently the best estimates for the amount of carbon that can be captured by CCS is about 50 per cent, although Professor Younger said it was actually 80 or 90 per cent. “I don’t want to do it without CCS,” he added.

However, Mr Bowens also said that CCS shouldn’t be seen as ‘a silver bullet’ and that while carbon dioxide (CO2) is one problem, methane – which will also be produced – is another and is 37 times worse than CO2 in terms of how it impacts on global warming.

What is Deep Gas Winning?

Newcastle-based Five-Quarter, an offshoot of the University, has developed a new technology, for which they have been granted licences to extract unconventional gas from deep below the sea off the Northumberland coast.

The process turns coal and the surrounding rocks directly into gas underground, but unlike fracking, no chemicals go into the ground, only steam and oxygen. Professor Younger was keen to stress that there are many key differences between DGW and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), which has been courting controversy.

l Read the story from last week’s Gazette for more about the potential economic impacts.