Public perceptions of underground coal gasification in the United Kingdom

There is growing interest internationally in the technology of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) as a means of accessing the energy contained within inaccessible coal reserves. One of the potential obstacles to UCG deployment is adverse public perceptions and reactions, either stopping or delaying proposed applications. This paper explores the public perceptions of UCG in the UK through a detailed case-study and focus group discussion. A failed proposal for a UCG drill site at Silverdale (Staffordshire) provides an opportunity to understand the influence of local social, cultural and institutional factors on the manner in which the risks and benefits associated with UCG are perceived. The participants of the focus group recognised the potential of UCG as a secure source of energy for the UK in the future, provided that it is safe to humans and the environment and cost-effective. The group discussed potential benefits to the local community, potential risks, the role of carbon dioxide capture and storage, and links to the hydrogen economy. The group recommended that an open, transparent and consultative process of decision-making and operation should be adopted by the developer, operator and regulator; and that UCG should be developed at a remote site, preferably on land, before applying it in coal seams close to populated areas.