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South Wales “syngas” plans gets cool reception 

Report by Gerry Gold

UCG protest South Wales

Days after David Cameron’s burst of enthusiastic support for the fossil fuel industry, proposals for a return to exploiting the South Wales coalfield drew a sceptical crowd to Burry Port’s Memorial Hall, on a wet afternoon.

Most of the 200 or so, including former miners, as well as members of Safe Energy and Frack Free Wales, who turned out for a rare opportunity to hear from Cluff Natural Resources (CNR), weren’t looking for a job.

They were there to listen and raise concerns about Cluff’s proposals to experiment with the use of horizontal “directional” drilling and underground coal gasification (UCG).  Horizontal drilling is the technology which made shale profitable through fracking for gas and oil.

The plan is to use UCG to give access to the vast undersea reserves of coal, and then set fire to it in order to extract “syngas” a mixture of hydrogen, CO2 and methane.

CNR is owned by Algy Cluff, who made his fortune in the 1970s from the North Sea oilfield, owned the Tory Spectator, and was a director of the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies.

CNR has raised £2m for five projects – in the Firth of Forth, in Scotland; the Loughor Estuary in Carmarthenshire, South Wales; the Dee Estuary, in North Wales and Merseyside; and at Whitehaven in Cumbria.

Licenses awarded by the Coal Authority give CNR the right to access the state-owned coal fields, to test the process of deep underground coal gasification before considering scaling it up for commercial exploitation.   

Keith Leighfield, Cluff’s technical representative, a former chief surveyor for British Coal, and an expert on the South Wales coalfield, repeatedly insisted at the meeting organised by the local Labour Party on the safety of the process, but despite his assurances most remained unconvinced.

Nia Griffith
Local MP Nia Griffith, who chaired the
meeting, said that the corporate take-
over had left people feeling powerless

Former miners warned of the dangers in the area which is the most-faulted part of the Welsh coalfield. Others raised the known problems with the drilling process – in which 5% of wells drilled fail on day one.

Concerns were raised by exasperated fishermen about the negative impact on the Loughor which had become a nursery in 1986 and so a no-go area for commercial fishing. Others were worried about the impact on the world-famous Penclawdd cockle beds.

Pointing to the dangers of climate change one woman declared it complete insanity to pursue any new forms of unconventional carbon when renewable sources of energy are abundant, sustainable, free and don’t produce waste.

Why, asked another, does Cluff want to drill in the Estuary which as a Site of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a site of Special Scientific Interest, has the highest level of protection under EU law, threatening the beaches of Cefn Sidan and the Gower Peninsula?

The answer wasn’t forthcoming from Cluff, but it came from the back of the hall, loud and clear. ‘Profit!’

21 January 2014

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