Risk of River Leam contamination

Cluff Natural Resources is in the process of applying for a licence to start underground coal gasification (UCG) in an area between Coventry and Leamington.

This consists mainly of small villages, farmland and woodland, some of which is ancient and biodiverse. Already there is the threat of the Coventry Gateway project, HS2 and further housebuilding. Our population is growing and we need the farmland to feed ourselves and our children. We also need to support and cherish our wildlife, as well as the human life in this peaceful area.

Underground coal gasification involves setting fire to coal underground. The fire needs to be carefully controlled, like a nuclear reactor, or there can be explosions. However, the fire is not easily accessible. The desired product is “syngas” which consists of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. Even if this gas does not explode, some of it is likely to leak out. Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide kills.

Even if there are no explosions, it is likely that the groundwater would be contaminated, which is why most applications for licences have been for coastal areas. UCG produces coal tars containing carcinogens. In Australia, benzene and toluene were found in groundwater and in the fat of grazing animals.

As far as Warwickshire is concerned, a large part of its drinking water is supplied from Draycote Water. If the level in the reservoir is low, Severn Trent extract water from the River Leam. The upper reaches of the Leam pass through the area under threat. Since UCG is so difficult to control, contamination of the upper Leam is a strong possibility, threatening not only Draycote Water but also the Avon and the Severn.

It is not only the villages of Weston, Hunningham, Eathorpe, Princethorpe, Marton and Birdingbury that could be subjected to a creeping underground inferno. A much larger area including Coventry and Leamington has been identified by the British Geological Survey as being “suitable” for UCG. Finally, the extraction and burning of “extreme gas” will cause runaway climate change. Is this what we want for our country?

Birgitta Ashworth, Co-ordinator, Leamington and Warwick Friends of the Earth