A billion-pound plan to reach untapped coal reserves under the North Sea will be under way by the end of the year, as the vast scale of the energy source beneath the North Sea is made clear.
Scientific data of the true extent of the coal deposits on the sea bed reveals that even a tiny percentage of them would be enough to power Britain for centuries to come, says a local expert.
Dermot Roddy, chief technical officer of energy company Five Quarter which will be leading the much-anticipated extraction work, said there are trillions of tonnes of deeply-buried coal stretching from the North East coast far out to sea: an amount thousands of times greater than all oil and gas extracted so far.
And now technology is advanced enough to be able to reach it.
Today, Mr Roddy, former professor of energy at Newcastle University, will explain the scientific findings to an energy conference in London and outlining his company’s plans to get the ball rolling on a massive “gasification” project which has been described as a game-changer in terms of its impact on the local economy.
Following analysis of coal deposits from data collected from all over the North Sea, he said the hope now is to sink the first bore-holes before the year-end. The plan is for a rig on the coastline around Tynemouth to begin vertical boring hundreds of metres down before taking a horizontal direction out to sea, reaching first an estimated two billion tonnes of coal just off the coast.
Between three and 23 trillion tonnes more lie further out which, compared to the six billion tonne total amount of oil and gas removed to date, is an enormous figure set to capture wide commercial interest.
Mr Roddy said: “We’ve been aware of this for a long time but the fact there’s a lot of coal doesn’t really matter if there’s no way of getting at it.”
But now Five Quarter, with its licence for offshore gas work in the North Sea, is at the starting point of demonstrating the technology and proving it works. “Suddenly we can do what people didn’t think we could do,” said Mr Roddy.
“We would expect to be drilling offshore before the end of this year and within two months to have gas coming to the surface.
“We’d be drilling several hundred metres per day – once started, things tend to move quickly.”
The government-backed £1bn energy scheme will see a new gas plant take shape in Northumberland – Alcan is one of the sites being considered – to process fuel recovered from rocks beneath the sea.
While the Northumberland area is the company’s immediate focus, longer-term plans will see drilling rig sites in its other licence areas following the shore up to the Scotland border.
Using cutting edge “deep gas winning” technology, its large-scale gasification process will involve pumping down high-pressure steam and oxygen to react with rocks to produce a gas which will then be piped to the plant for processing before being sent on to areas such as Teesside for chemical industry.
One of its areas of work being patented is a clever drilling technique which allows for more branching out underground without the need to drill a well at every point.
Not only does the energy scheme bring the promise of up to 400 jobs but it also helps keep the UK’s manufacturing industry competitive at a time when America is re-booting its manufacturing base through the use of cheaper fracking fuel.
Householders, currently hit by spiralling energy costs, are also set to be winners in the long-term.
Mr Roddy pointed out: “The cost of bringing a barrel of crude oil to the surface in the Middle East is $6 so why are people talking about being sold oil for $100 a barrel? It’s because of creating a scarcity.
“Ultimately, if we can use our own UK indigenous resources then we are not at the mercy of somebody else who decides to create a world shortage.”