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Report Shows Underground Coal Gasification a Hazardous Experiment

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Museum of Silesia by Kris Dud via Flickr

Friends of the Earth Scotland have today published a report setting out the serious dangers that Underground Coal Gasification poses in terms of climate change, local environmental impacts, and public health.

The report comes in the weeks before Professor Campbell Gemmell is due to submit his review of UCG to Scottish Ministers, under the current moratorium. FoES are urging the Scottish Government to act swiftly to ban UCG, and end uncertainty for threatened communities around the Forth and Solway Firths.

The report includes case studies from Australia, China, South Africa, the UK and the US and finds that:
• If Cluff Natural Resources’ Kincardine UCG project went ahead, around 120 million tonnes of CO2 could be released into the atmosphere, more than twice Scotland’s annual carbon emissions. There are a total of 6 licenses in the Forth and Solway Firths.

• Globally, Underground Coal Gasification would fuel climate change by potentially creating an extra 1650 billion tonnes of CO2 which alone is four times the amount that can be emitted if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change.

• Irreversible environmental damage has been done by Linc Energy’s recent Underground Coal Gasification experiment in Queensland, Australia, prompting the Queensland government to ban the technology.
• The US has historically been the testing ground for several UCG experiments that have resulted in long-lasting contamination of groundwater.

• In South Africa, Eskom’s recent UCG trial ended with a US$70 million financial impairment of the site, reflecting its complete lack of commercial viability. Currently there are no commercial UCG projects operating in the US and Australia despite decades of research and development.

The author of the report, Friends of the Earth Scotland campaigner Flick Monk, said:

“The history of UCG is littered with contamination incidents, ground subsidence and industrial accidents. Given what we know about this technology’s chequered history around the world, plans to burn coal seams under the Firth of Forth are completely reckless.

The climate change consequences of UCG are enormous and allowing the industry to take root would be completely out of step with Scotland’s world-leading ambition on tackling climate change.

“We call on the Scottish Government to urgently ban UCG on climate change grounds. Scotland should be investing in clean, community-owned renewables instead of trying ever-more outlandish schemes to get more fossil fuels out of the ground.”

In 2014 local residents from around the Firth of Forth, concerned about underground coal gasification and its potential effects, set up the campaign group ‘Our Forth’. Callum McLeod, current chair of Our Forth and resident of Portobello said, “Communities have made it clear from the start that any technology that poses risks to our environment, coastlines and health is unwelcome in Scotland. We cannot let Cluff’s coal experiments go ahead in the Firth of Forth because the risks are simply too big.”

Cluff Natural Resources planned to set fire to coal seams under the Firth of Forth but put the project on hold due to the huge public opposition across Scotland and the subsequent moratorium in October 2015. Five Quarter, who also hold licences in the Firth of Forth and Solway Firth and planned to use the controversial technology, collapsed in March 2016.

Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Australia Energy Campaigner commented, “Underground Coal Gasification technology has left a trail of destruction in its wake wherever it’s been tried. All three UCG experiments in Australia have been environmental disasters. This experimental technology is linked to contamination from dangerous gases escaping into nearby soils and groundwater, surface subsidence, and produces toxic waste.

“The contamination from the Queensland UCG trial was so serious that farmers nearby aren’t even allowed to dig down more than two metres without permission. As a result of this project, the state government concluded it wasn’t worth the risk and has committed to completely banning the technology. We urge other countries and states to learn from these disastrous trials and stop the industry before it can do any more harm.”

After the catastrophic failure of a UCG test project in Queensland, Australia, the operator is being sued by the Government for ‘irreversible environmental damage’. The company has recently gone into liquidation and so is unlikely to pay the clean-up costs estimated to be around A$30 million. The Queensland state Government has introduced a ban on the technology and there are now calls for a ban across the whole of Australia.

Yesterday, the Sunday Herald reported that Professor Campbell Gemmell shares many of FoES concerns around UCG and that his review is likely to go against the technology.

Environment

Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations

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green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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Environment

How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions

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auto industry to clean air pollution

Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.

Progress

The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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