Coal Is The New Black Gold Under The North Sea

  • Date: 30/03/14
  • Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times

Scientists have discovered vast deposits of coal lying under the North Sea, potentially holding enough energy to power Britain for centuries.

They have studied data, from seismic tests and boreholes, collected all over the North Sea for oil and gas exploration, but instead used it to build a picture of coal deposits.

The work revealed that the sea bed holds up to 20 layers of coal extending from Britain’s northeast coast far out under the sea — and that much of it could be reached with the technologies already in use to extract oil and gas.

“We think there are between three trillion and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried under the North Sea,” said Dermot Roddy, formerly professor of energy at Newcastle University. “This is thousands of times greater than all the oil and gas we have taken out so far, which totals around 6bn tonnes. If we could extract just a few per cent of that coal it would be enough to power the UK for decades or centuries.”

Geologists have long known that Britain’s onshore coal seams extend under the North Sea but were uncertain about the scale. Energy companies ignored them because they were seen as inaccessible.

Recent years, however, have brought advances in technologies such as gasification, where superheated steam and oxygen are pumped underground to turn coal into gases that can be burnt for power or used to make plastics.

Tomorrow, at a Royal Academy of Engineering conference on energy, Roddy will describe the scale of the deposits and reveal plans to sink the first boreholes perhaps as early as this autumn — using a rig on the coastline around Tynemouth to bore vertically for hundreds of metres. Then the drill would be rotated to head horizontally out under the North Sea, seeking the estimated 2bn tonnes of coal lying immediately off that section of coast.

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see also: Britain Is Swimming In Swimming In Enough Energy For Centuries To Come