Friends of the Earth Scotland (FOES) has called for a swift ban on an unconventional coal technology after a report claimed there are serious dangers associated with the process.
Underground coal gasification (UGC), which extracts gas from coal seams through underground combustion, threatens to be a “major contributor” to climate change, according to the study.
The process was also found to have contributed to air pollution and long-lasting groundwater contamination at trial locations in Australia, South Africa and the USA.
At one site in Queensland, Australia, a six-year project by Linc Energy was said to have caused “irreversible” environmental damage and incurred clean-up costs of at least A$30 million.
The Scottish Government currently has a moratorium on UGC, but FOES said six licenses have been granted in the Forth and Solway firths.
Following the publication of its report, the charity is now calling for an outright ban on the technology in Scotland.
Allowing the industry to take root would be completely out of step with Scotland’s world-leading ambition on tackling climate change
Flick Monk, the report’s author, said: “The history of UCG is littered with contamination incidents, ground subsidence and industrial accidents. Given what we know about this technology's chequered history around the world, plans to burn coal seams under the Firth of Forth are completely reckless.
“The climate change consequences of UCG are enormous and allowing the industry to take root would be completely out of step with Scotland’s world-leading ambition on tackling climate change.
“We call on the Scottish Government to urgently ban UCG on climate change grounds. Scotland should be investing in clean, community-owned renewables instead of trying ever-more outlandish schemes to get more fossil fuels out of the ground.”
Earlier this year, energy firm Cluff Natural Resources announced it had scrapped plans for UGC in the Firth of Forth as a result of the moratorium.
Callum McLeod, chairman of local campaign group Our Forth, said: “Communities have made it clear from the start that any technology that poses risks to our environment, coastlines and health is unwelcome in Scotland.
“We cannot let Cluff’s coal experiments go ahead in the Firth of Forth because the risks are simply too big.”
An independent report into UGC in Scotland, commissioned by the Scottish Government, is due later this year.
A spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is taking a cautious and evidence-led approach to underground coal gasification.
“To provide time to gather the necessary evidence, a moratorium on underground coal gasification was put in place in 2015, meaning that the Scottish ministers would prevent any UCG activity taking place in Scotland while the moratorium on planning applications remains in force.
“Professor Campbell Gemmell has been asked to lead an independent examination of underground coal gasification, which will draw on published sources of information, expert input and community views. His findings will help the Scottish Government formulate future policies."
The Friends of the Earth report, Fuelling the Fire, is available on the charity’s website.