Public debate to be held in Alnwick over North East coast gas drilling plans

Friends of the Earth have called a meeting in Alnwick over coal gas drilling plans off the Northumberland coast

Former Newcastle University Professor Paul Younger
Former Newcastle University Professor Paul Younger

A public meeting and a play will examine plans to tackle the North East’s power needs by extracting energy from underground coal reserves and rock strata.

The meeting today at 7.30pm at St James’s Church Centre at Pottergate in Alnwick has been called by Friends of the Earth.

Academics from Newcastle University have secured licences for underground goal gasification over 400 sq kms off the Northumberland coast from the mouth of the Tyne northwards and have set up a company called Five-Quarter to take the concept forward.

The company says that three quarters of the North East’s coal reserves are still underground.

The meeting will be addressed by one of the founders of Five-Quarter, former Newcastle University Professor Paul Younger, and Simon Bowens, North East Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

Martin Swinbank, a member of Alnwick Area Friends of the Earth said: “Coal is traditionally the dirtiest of fossil fuels. Professor Younger tells us that we can extract energy from it offshore. We’ll be interested to understand how this can be done without exacerbating climate change and without having any impact on Northumberland’s priceless coastline.”

Newcastle-based Five-Quarter says that its method of extracting gas is a “highly sophisticated and fine–tuned technology, rather like key–hole surgery.”

It involves drilling narrow boreholes up to 2km below the seabed. Oxygen and steam are then injected, reacting with the rocks to produce the dominant components of synthesis gas (‘syngas’) - hydrogen and carbon monoxide, methane and carbon dioxide.

The company says these are then safely collected and cleaned, with no emissions to the atmosphere. The boreholes are located well away from shore and many kilometres from any aquifers used for supplying water .The method takes gas from strata which include coal, but also sandstone, shale and other surrounding rocks.

When operating at full capacity, the scheme would include several onshore power plants.

Meanwhile, there are plans to stage what is believed to be the first play about fracking at a public amphitheatre adjacent to St Michael’s Church on the edge of the Byker Wall in Newcastle next month.

The work, a comedy drama titled The Eruption of Birtley, is by Tyneside playwright Peter Mortimer and is set to be staged by Martin Collins, a research biologist and former science explainer at the Newcastle Centre for Life.

Auditions will be held at the amphitheatre from 6.30pm-9pm on Wednesday and Friday.

The fracking play has been written by Mr Mortimer with pupils from Ravensworth Primary School in Birtley in Gateshead.

It tells the story of a volcanic eruption in Birtley caused by fracking after drilling goes ahead despite a warning by allotment holders who are in touch with Mother Earth.

Martin Collins, who is involved with the groups Fracking Free Tyne and Wear and Artists for Change, said the event would highlight concerns over underground coal gasification and fracking to force oil from underground shale deposits.

The concerns include worries about the impact of fracking on geology in the region which is honeycombed with old mine workings, leading to pollution and subsidence fears.

He said: “With coal gasification, what happens if the chambers created by the process collapse and what happens if there is runway burning underground?”

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