By Robin Turner
Robin Turner has covered news in the Swansea Bay area for 25 years
An oil industry expert turned African gold hunter is planning to press ahead with two underground coal gasification schemes in Wales "before the lights go out".
Algy Cluff, 72, wants to extract gas from coal beds beneath the Loughor Estuary in Swansea and the Dee Estuary in Flintshire.
His firm, Cluff Natural Resources, has been awarded two UK Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) licences for the projects.
Mr Cluff, a North Sea oil entrepreneur in the 1970s who more recently turned to gold mining in Africa, said UCG was "safe, clean and essential".
But environmentalists yesterday warned of a "number of concerns" over the extraction of gas from coal beds.
Mr Cluff said he hoped to gain planning and other consents for the Swansea and Dee projects to allow drilling to start within two to three years.
He said: "The process does have its opponents but I aim to press ahead with these two schemes as quickly as possible before the lights go out.
"We are facing a real energy crisis in this country but while we import much of our gas we have billions of tonnes of it here.
"This is not fracking which is something quite different, UCG has the potential to do much to address the UK's future energy needs, avoids the use of fracking and enables the gas generated to be easily controlled by the supply of oxygen. We do not use chemicals and do not create an eyesore like wind farms.
"The green lobby should be pressing for UCG. These licences represent a low cost entry into underground coal gasification which is becoming a burgeoning industry.
"It is well known that coal seams extend into the offshore waters around the UK and with proven technology now available to utilise this energy source, we intend to embark on the process by extracting gas from these coal seams."
Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said the number one worry for opponents is climate change.
He said: "Continuing to produce energy like this from fossil fuels will only add to the problem. There is also the question of subsidence.
"We would like to know before any permission for schemes like this is granted if there is the possibility of the sea floor dropping as cavities are created and what effect this could have on fisheries and recreational use of these waters."
Earlier this year Mr Clubb told the National Assembly's sustainability committee: "The global authority on energy, the International Energy Agency, has described our continuing rush to exploit more and more new sources of fossil fuels as catastrophic for the planet.
"But renewable energy can offer a prosperous and sustainable future, powering Wales and providing jobs for hundreds of years to come. To protect Wales from climate catastrophe we must impose a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, as has already happened elsewhere in Europe.
"And we should move as swiftly as possible to a Wales powered by 100% renewable energy, providing tens of thousands of jobs in the booming green economy."
The process uses directional drilling techniques that are commonplace in the oil and gas sector to follow the coal seam. Instead of digging the coal out, oxygen and water pumped down a shaft into coal beds creating a reaction that turns the coal into what is known as syngas.
Controversial fracking or hydraulic fracture, which has transformed the gas industry in the USA, involves the use of high pressure water, sand and chemicals being injected into shale rock at high pressure to release gas trapped inside.
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