A FIRM which has plans to tap into coal gas beneath the sea, creating hundreds of jobs, has hit back over claims it could be a catastrophe.
Campaigners will meet today to discuss concerns over Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) off the North East coast.
Licences have been granted to Five Quarter off Sunderland, and Cluff Natural Resources, which has been granted permission to bore between Ryhope to Peterlee and down to the Headland of Hartlepool.
The Families, Friends, Fight Against Gasification (FAG), which brings together action groups from Sunderland, East Durham, Cleveland and Cumbria, will meet in Dawdon tomorrow to discuss fears at a public meeting.
A spokesman said: “There is strong public opposition to this and FAG are campaigning against this potentially catastrophic activity.”
Both firms say they have not been invited to the session.
Their gas-making process would involve driving boreholes below the seabed from land, with steam and oxygen then injected to oxidise the coal and surrounding rock.
It does not involve fracking or injecting chemicals.
But Friends of the Earth say it will involve burning millions of tons of coal under the seabed and involve carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen being pumped to facilities along the coast.
Friends of the Earth’s North East campaigner, Simon Bowens, said: “The North East has already suffered from a legacy of exploitation.
“This experimental scheme, which claims to inject pollutants back into the ground, risks leaving generations to come with another pollution headache.
“Additionally, the burning of this fossil fuel will only add more climate changing gases to our atmosphere.”
Dr Harry Bradbury, founder of Five Quarter and its chairman, said Friends of the Earth were sending out an “alarmist message” and had not taken on board information it had been given earlier this year addressing its concerns.
He said operations could be up and running by 2017 or 2018, with bases in industrial sites on Wearside and a major plant on Teesside, where it plans to supply industries.
It will generate around 400 jobs and potentially another 200 depending on operations, with its staff now seeking out workers.
He said: “We will create jobs, but it this is about existing jobs, that’s what this is really about, the supply chain.
“I’ve spoken to the chief executive of Sunderland’s council and been clear on the message if Sunderland is to be a centre of excellence for manufacturing, it cannot do that without the raw materials.”
He added he has set aside the first week in December to meet with people to discuss the plans, with anyone interested in meeting him asked to email email@example.com.
The meeting at Dawdon Miners’ Welfare Hall, in Mount Stewart Street, is at 6.30pm.