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A new green disinformation campaign

Cluff Resources' underground coal gasification project looks at the moment as if it might have escaped Holyrood's moratorium on fracking projects, and greens have therefore launched a concerted campaign to address this regrettable loophole. The latest development is that Frack Off have obtained a letter written in January by Cluff Resources to Scottish ministers. This is breathtakingly dull stuff. The company introduces themselves, explains how much they are planning on investing and the inquire whether they were covered by the moratorium.

In other words it's a complete non-story. Nevertheless it has been hyped up by the greens, who have characterised it as "holding the country to ransom", and this ridiculous claim has inevitably been given maximum publicity by the BBC's David Miller here.

This latest green campaign will be an interesting one to follow, since it is going to involve the their having to develop a whole new disinformation campaign to deal with a different technology. The initial gambit appears to be that UCG presents a risk of explosions. Both the BBC and this (green tinged) investigative journalism site quote SNP MSP Tommy Sheppard as saying that UCG carries :

the threat of underground explosions and geological trauma.

Friends of the Earth has the same allegation on this webpage, with the following citation:

Cougar Energy’s UCG trial plant in Kingaroy, Queensland was shut down in 2010 following explosions, contamination of groundwater and nearby livestock with carcinogenic chemicals. See:

So at best there is a single incidence of an explosion in a UCG plant. However, if you follow the links you find two news stories that do not make a single solitary mention of an explosion.

The Wikipedia page on Cougar Energy has quite a good summary of the incident:

On 16 July 2010, the Kingaroy pilot plant was temporary shut down after traces of benzene and toluene were detected in groundwater monitoring bores. However, the level of hydrocarbons in the water was 95% lower than Australian drinking water guidelines. Two readings analysed by the independent testing laboratory also proved to be false and provided incorrect results. Copies of these mistakes were contained in further independent reports provided by Cougar Energy to DERM who subsequently acknowledged and accepted the findings. Cougar Energy has initiated two legal actions in Queensland seeking damages for the closing down of the Kingaroy plant as well as orders to permit the re-opening of operations at the plant.

It's also interesting to refer to this DTI report on the UCG technology, which tells us that it presents "a very low risk to groundwater" and also makes no mention of explosions.

What do we reckon to the chances of the BBC discussing this in any of their output?


Update: I got something wrong here. I've removed the following paragraph from the main text:

He also follows the corporation's normal policy of getting comments from two separate anti-capitalist environmentalist groups (in this case WWF and FoE) to liven things up, although in fairness they do seem to have tried and failed to get a response from Cluff, whose PR team seems to exhibit the same ineptitude as Cuadrilla's.

The article actually only quoted WWF. I think I may have confused with the Ferret article linked above. Sorry.

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Reader Comments (30)

I think you're being too harsh your Grace! After all, there was a movie years ago about an American newspaper in which the editor ordered his reporters to "go out & find some news, & if they couldn't find any, go out & invent some!". They are merely "inventing" some news with which to frighten every one they can to sell presumably whatever it is that they "sell", whether they are actually journos or not! Oh well back to the mill.

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

On the question of energy security and adopting a "sane" approach to decarbonization of the electricity supply, is there an opportunity to discuss the scenarios put forward by Roger Andrews at the Energy Matters website?

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commenterrogue

"contamination ... carcinogenic chemicals"
- Translation we at Friends of the Earth would rather use a scary word like "carcinogenic chemicals" cos that sounds more scary than just simply naming the common chemical and context that the oil corp use "traces of benzene and toluene were detected in groundwater monitoring bores"
- Oh full context no that's too much trouble for FoE "95% lower than Australian drinking water guidelines. Two readings analysed by the independent testing laboratory also proved to be false and provided incorrect results."

However I see 2 years later the Cougar dropped their case against the gov after both sides came to a settlement and no money changed hands .
.The govs prosecution of the corp resulted in Sep 24, 2013 $75,000 fine + $40,000 costs (context that against the $550m project)
"Prosecutor... Cougar had failed to install a production well in line with agreed environmental conditions and later released benzene into the local groundwater.
... also failed to notify authorities about the benzene release as soon as reasonably practicable.

Cougar pled guilty to three counts of contravening conditions of an environmental authority for a licence earlier in 2013.

Defence lawyer .. argued the benzene release had been so minimal that it had not posed any actual risk."
Financial Review

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:43 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Every kemical is carcinogenic on planet grrnpeace/FoE.

And WTF is a "geological trauma"? A hole in the ground?

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

No-one from Cluff Natural Resources was available for comment.

Cluff PR asleep at the wheel or on holiday? - no mention of the opposition head in the sand -> getting their bottoms kicked.

If there was ever a time for some truly robust knockabout PR ....

Jul 29, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Of course, explosions never happened in coal mines!!!

Jul 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Miller seems to have followed Harrabin's method from a few days ago, where he fabricated (I don't think that's too strong a word) a story by asking FoE and Greenpeace what they thought of Amber Rudd's trimming of Green subsidies.

The BBC trust is running a public consultation at the moment. Like most questionnaires, it asks the wrong questions (there is no "how well do you think the BBC abides by its charter agreement and requirement of objectivity") but there is a question on what they should do less of, and one on how they represent diverse communities.

Jul 29, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

The absurd pant-wetting reaction from green advocates just shows how deluded and dangerous for the nation's well-being they really are. Part of me hopes Scotland fall for their lobbying and bans all fossil fuel derived energy. A serious blackout or 3 in the depths of winter wouldn't half sharpen their focus a little.

Jul 29, 2015 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

Geological Trauma, LOL

Jul 29, 2015 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTmitsss

Fatal self administered Shamical contamination of the BBC.

The attempt by the BBC to poison the entire population with deliberate lies, seems to be killing off any remaining credibility, and chance of survival, for the BBC.

Sadly, it will make an interesting story for a genuine investigative journalist, with all former employees relying on the Nuremberg defence, and refusing to accept any blame.

Jul 29, 2015 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

So the UCG process is safer than manufacturing wood flour for flooring.

Jul 29, 2015 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Haven't the BBC been able to get a statement on this issue from Russell Brand yet?

Jul 29, 2015 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I think we should stop giving the idiots behind these idiotic schemes any resemblance of credibility by calling then "Green" because there are some people who really do want to stop damage to the environment, who really are green, but who couldn't go along with these schemes.

Instead, I suggest making it clear that the only way these schemes are "green" is in the sense of "gullible". They are gullible propaganda, targeted by big business at the gullible intending to make BIG BUSINESS, BIG ENVIRONMENT enormously rich.

In contrast, there are small groups of environmentalists who act with common sense who don't jump on the latest money making scheme and who don't deserve to be lumped together with the gullibles or BIG ENVIRONMENT.

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:14 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

It's not whether there is no risk ..crossing the road, or giving birth has risks. It's whether the benefits outweigh the risk.
..and if there is $559m of benefit and $5m of likely damage in the project then you do it. That $550m can provide
: profit for investors
: tax money for the government
: project money for environmentalists.
If it's win win win only the pig-headed would try to block it and leave those environmental projects undone.

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterstewgreen

MikeHaseler, Big Green Bogey Men (and women) ?

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Not for the first time. A group called "Frack-Free Dudleston" lead a similar misinformation campaign that resulted in Shropshire Council's planning committee turning down an application for a test borehole for Coal-bed Methane. This has now gone to appeal, although it is dead in the water as the landowner has refused to renew his contract with the applicants, apparently after being leant on by the protesters.

Jul 29, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Some of these activists have not considered the high risk of 'natural gas' explosions, when a group of vegetarians are huddled together around an open fire to stay warm, particularly if the space is enclosed by wattle and daub walls and timber roof structures, clad with dried vegetation.

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

@ cheshirered

"...Scotland fall for their lobbying and bans all fossil fuel derived energy.."

How do you envisage this might happen? What do you think is the likelihood of it happening? What makes you think it might happen?

Jul 29, 2015 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered Commentersam@

michael hart

Geological trauma is what occurs after falling into a hole in the ground.

Jul 29, 2015 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

michael hart

Geological trauma is what occurs after falling into a hole in the ground.

Jul 29, 2015 at 5:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Those of you who are ignorant (that is most of you -and me) of much of the SNPs attitude to energy might find this link interesting and useful.

It is a committee inquiry into security of supply and the committee is, as usual in these matters, across all parties. I hold the faint hope that this lengthy inquiry may help to inform you.

Jul 29, 2015 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered Commentersam

I have to say that underground coal gasification has a much longer but far more chequered history than shale gas. My understanding is that it has effectively been banned in the UK by the Coal Authority and the Environment Agency for any underground seams other than those situated offshore. Although the literature is replete with examples of UCG trials (and production) in the old USSR and more recently in Uzbekistan, Australia, China and elsewhere, examples of technically and commercially successful operations seem few and far between, certainly compared to fracking.

If they can make it work, then great.

But so far as the UK is concerned, most coal seams have already been accessed by (now abandoned) deep mining. They are also generally much closer to aquifers than the main shale seams of interest.

I would have very serious reservations about trying to use UCG in seams already partly extracted by deep mines. A significant risk of explosions, or of starting underground combustion which was then very difficult to control, let alone extinguish. Allegedly, this was a serious problem in the USSR.

Of course, that still leaves (for example) significant unworked seams in Norfolk and lying North of York (in North Yorkshire).

But if we still struggle to get the consents for shale gas exploration, I think it will be interesting to see how plans progress for UCG in the UK. Interestingly, when I have discussed proposals with promoters of the technology, they seemed to be only slightly less spittle-flecked than Greenpeace themselves in their promotion of the cAGW myth. But of course, one of the best and most knowledgeable commenters on Shale gas and oil is Nick Grealy who still attempts to schmooze with the Greenies whenever he can.

Jul 29, 2015 at 6:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Martin Brumby, 6:36: The NCB carried out trials of in situ gasification in the Wyre Forest coalfield in the 1950's. There were no explosions, pollution of aquifers or other any other environmental problems identified. The project was abandoned as uneconomic. I can't see why the CA and EA would 'ban' onshore UCG, but be OK with offshore use, as any pollution from the latter would be far less easy to mitigate.

Jul 29, 2015 at 7:30 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

I wonder if the big NGO's could run anything besides a disinformation campaign these days?

Jul 29, 2015 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Yes it has been tried in the past in the UK. In fact the first experiments were in Durham, before WWI.

The regulatory and political framework in the 1950s was just a smidgeon different, of course.

I didn't suggest underground explosions or pollution was inevitable. But I think that anyone with relevant experience of mine safety would concede that they would be far greater than in shale wells.

Of course, neither the CA nor the EA today has much practical coal mining experience today. But they do talk to the Mines Inspectorate and are aware of the literature on overseas projects. Why are they minded to only countenance undersea UCG workings?
Comparatively easy to extinguish, obviously. Also unlikely to pull in air from old workings.

Jul 29, 2015 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Methane always presents an explosion risk wherever it is - alas even when piped into 80% of our homes. People are obviously happy to live with this risk because they want to keep warm; small risk, large benefit.

Jul 30, 2015 at 8:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I am finding the inquiry by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee of the Holyrood Parliament into security of supply very interesting. One submission by Messrs Miller and Gibson is,in my view, scathing about UK government policy. Sir Donald Miller was Chairman of Scottish Power between 1982 and 1992 and Colin Gibson was Power network Director of the National Grid between 1983 and 1987.

Here is a bit of their submission: "The present structure of the industry in the UK is defective in that none of the participating companies or organisations has a clear responsibility for securing the reliability of our electricity supplies, whether in the immediate future or for the six to ten years ahead which it takes to construct new generating plant. there is an urgent need for Government to appoint a competent body to examine the structure and obligations of the UK electricity industry but failing that..... the Scottish Government......take the initiative..... by pressing to secure powers to vary the modus operandi of the industry in Scotland."

That has very strong echoes of the Wood Review of the oil and gas industry which concluded that DECC lacked the numbers of personnel with sufficient knowledge and resources adequately to regulate the industry. Wood (a strong Unionist) concluded that regulation of the oil and gas industry should be removed from DECC, a conclusion that was accepted. It was DECC that commissioned Wood's review. It must be fairly rare that a department of government commissions a review only to find that the main conclusion is that it is incompetent and may have been so for a considerable period of time. I get the sense that Miller and Gibson (both Scots -like Ian Wood - and also, I guess, good Unionists) think DECC management of the energy sector is also incompetent.

Jul 30, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered Commentersam


Methane presents no risk whatever of combustion or an explosion, unless it is present in an appropriate mixture with air / oxygen and a source of ignition.

See for a simplified treatment.

You may wish to review my comments (and the relevance of yours) in this light.

As I said, "If they can make it work, then great."

Jul 30, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Miller and Gibson: "In our view Government is not equipped to fulfill (sic) the role of detailed planning of the electricity system and it seems clear when inviting bids for new plant, they are in a weak negotiating position. this became apparent in the contract negotiations for new nuclear capacity at Hinckley. While the price agreed was similar to the published expected out-turn cost for the first plant being built by EDF in France at Flamanville, we would have expected a significant reduction for a a second plant of virtually the same design provided from essentially the same supply chain. Certainly these costs are a third higher than those published by the USA Energy Administration for equivalent nuclear capacity now under construction there. furthermore there is no possibility that SSEB or NOSHEB would have let contracts for new nuclear plants with a Company which is ten years and five years late in their two existing contracts and with a main contractor who is reported to be under severe financial pressure.

In our view, the 2014 electrical Reform Act, with its confusion of responsibilities and its weakening of financial disciplines, is unlikely to be successful in achieving satisfactory outcomes for the consumer."

It looks to me as if DECC is incompetent across the board. It has screwed up the oil and gas sector and it has screwed up the energy generation sector.

Jul 30, 2015 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered Commentersam

Simon Skillings of Trilemma was an interesting contributor. He said this: "I cannot see the closure of Longannet as a problem in terms of total capacity." Earlier he had referred to the "myth of security of supply crunch." Time may tell.

Skillings also said: "One of the difficult issues to discuss is the planning of closure... the planning that is being done - and a lot is being done - is being carried out in a piecemeal way and not in a strategic, coordinated way."

Professor Turner, Strathclyde University and an economist, said she thought the closing of Longannet, since it provided about half the base load, would be an issue. When asked, Professor turner promptly agreed that the UK policy of transmission charges is one of the reasons why Longannet is to close. if my memory is right Scottish Power lost out to Peterhead in a tender for grid access. Scottish Power described the transmission charges as "punitive".

Skillings said transmission policy was a micropolicy issue. He felt there was a need first to solve energy policy and then do something coherent with transmission policy that fits in with everything else. He said that we do not have a clear set of objectives for how we will deliver on policy objectives in the future. That sounds really damning to me about the ability of DECC to manage.

Miller and Gibson attribute the closure of Longannet to it being constrained off the system by wind power which is given a priority. For them, transmission costs and generating dispatching should be under the control of a "not for profit" organisation.

It will be interesting to see if the forthcoming inquiry by the Energy Select Committee in Westminster picks up on some of these topics.

Also, it seems to me that the SNP government may have been correct to avoid nuclear given the remarks by Sir Donald Miller and Colin Gibson, though Professor Turner speculated if the reasons for it were "nimbyism".

Jul 31, 2015 at 7:10 AM | Unregistered Commentersam

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