Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Humber coal exploration approved

Humber estuary
Exploration will not harm the Humber environment, the company said

The UK's Coal Authority has approved a bid by a company to explore whether coal seams beneath the Humber could be used to produce "clean" energy.

Studies by the Clean Coal Company suggest there are coal reserves of 200m tonnes between Grimsby and Immingham.

That would be enough to meet half the energy needs of Grimsby and Hull for at least 30 years, the company said.

In a process called gasification, coal would be turned into a gas underground and then used as a fuel.

Carbon dioxide would be separated during the gasification process and stored in the underground cavities left by burning the coal.

The Humber is one of five locations around the UK coast to be surveyed by the company for potential energy use.

The site stretches over 50 sq miles (80 sq km), with survey boreholes being drilled at depths of up to 0.7 miles (1.2 km).

The process of underground coal gasification works by pumping a mix of water and air or oxygen in to a coal seam, through a borehole
The coal is burnt underground, and the gas produced in the process can then be used as a fuel
Supporters of the process say immediate benefits include no need for traditional mining

The company said the investigations, which will be carried out in the first half of 2010, would have no detrimental impact on marine life, shipping or fishing in the estuary.

If the project does go ahead it would lead to a multi-million pound investment in North East Lincolnshire and create up to 30 jobs.

According to Clean Coal, this would be the first time that the gasification of underground coal would be potentially available to the UK energy market.

The gas extracted in the process can be used to power electricity generating turbines, industrial heating, or used in jet and diesel oil production.

Clean Coal chairman Rohan Courtney said: "Recent developments in directional drilling technology and the growing need for new, secure and environmentally benign sources of energy means that underground coal gasification now merits serious investigation.

"This is an exciting and commercially viable development which can bring significant long-term benefit to Humberside."

A Friends of the Earth spokesman said: "As long as no danger was posed to marine wildlife, and all the CO2 produced by any gasification of the coal seam was fully captured and stored underground, then it's definitely a potential source of energy that should be looked at."

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