A PETITION has been launched to stop a bid to set fire to underground coal off the coast to produce gas.
Campaigners say underground coal gasification (UCG) could “devastate” the whole of Hartlepool and East Durham.
The Mail reported in April that the process – which some critics and environmental campaigners claim is worse than fracking, where water and sand is used for hydraulic fracturing of permeable rocks – had sparked fears of underground explosions, tremors and contamination.
A major concern is massive contamination from highly toxic chemicals, leading to abandonment of testing in other areas and the process already being banned in Queensland, Australia. Critics say the drilling of wells to set fire to the coal will also be detrimental on the landscape.
The campaign group, Easington Action Group, aims to get trade unions to fund buses to take the petition to Parliament.
UCG involves setting fire to offshore coal underground, partially burning it and extracting a synthetic gas, made of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane.
The Government has granted conditional licences nationwide for companies to carry out exploratory works to see whether underground coal gasification (UCG) is viable.
Two are pending approval off the Hartlepool and East Durham coast, in an area stretching from the Headland to Ryhope.
Group members recently found out about the plans at a Labour Party meeting and within less than a week the petition had gained 400 signatures.
Group secretary Victoria Fannon said: “I honestly believe it will devastate this area. We said ‘what do we do?’ so we organised people in Easington first, then we got some Seaham residents on board, and we are also asking people from Hartlepool and Peterlee to join the campaign.”
She said group members hope to meet with residents from Hartlepool this Saturday at Easington Victory Club to discuss the plans.
“We said we would go away and read about it, and the more I hear about it, the more I’m worried,” she said.
Group members say they hope to build up “wads and wads” of petitions and signatures before asking unions to provide finance for buses to take campaigners to Whitehall.
“We’ve got to make it big, otherwise they are going to win,” added Ms Fannan.
“Our wonderful area could be spoiled.”
Easington MP Grahame Morris said his understanding is that any operation could not take place until licensees satisfy all the pre-conditions, including an environmental study. He said he would be keen to examine the effects of the process where licences are already in place and that this approach would allow the community to make an informed choice on whether to support UCG.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokeswoman said: “Underground Coal Gasification is still at an early stage in the UK. No gasification can take place until planning consent has been received and health and safety regulators decide it is safe to go ahead.”
The national Frack Off group is providing support to anti-UCG campaigners.
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