from The National, 23 February 2015
A new partnership with controversial US oil giant, Halliburton, to exploit coal gas under the Firth of Forth has come under fierce fire from environmentalists and politicians.
The company that’s leading efforts to develop underground coal gasification (UCG), Cluff Natural Resources, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Halliburton. This launches a new collaboration aimed at commercialising exploration licences covering large parts of the Firth of Forth, starting with an area off Kincardine.
At the weekend an alliance of 30 community and environmental groups wrote to the Scottish Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, demanding that UCG be included in the government’s fracking moratorium. They expressed “grave concern” that it had been omitted, and highlighted health and environmental dangers.
Ewing announced a temporary moratorium on onshore fracking and coalbed methane developments on 28 January. But he specifically excluded offshore UCG, despite having powers to include it.
Cluff Natural Resources, founded by the multi-millionaire oil tycoon, Algy Cluff, has been in talks with Fife and Falkirk council officials in recent weeks and is intending to make planning applications for the Kincardine scheme later this year. It announced on 13 February that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Halliburton.
Halliburton was implicated in the Deep Water Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 as a cement provider. In September 2014 it agreed to pay £1.1 billion to settle a series of legal claims over its role in the BP explosion and spillage, which killed 11 people and discharged an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.
In July 2013, the company admitted destroying evidence on the disaster, after 3-D computer simulations of the blowout were deleted. In June 2014 a fire at a Halliburton fracking site in Ohio was reported to have leaked toxic chemicals into a river and killed 70,000 fish.
In 2008 the head of a Halliburton subsidiary pled guilty to bribing Nigerian government officials. The company, which was headed by Dick Cheney from 1995 to 2000 before he became US Vice President, was also criticised over a $7 billion contract in the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq.
Friends of the Earth Scotland warned that Cluff’s choice of Halliburton as a partner “should set alarm bells ringing”. It accused Halliburton of lobbying to exclude fracking fluids from safe drinking water legislation in the US.
“If Cluff and Halliburton plan to take a similar approach in Scotland, then this union is a very serious cause for concern,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.
The Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, thought that Cluff's link to Halliburton strengthened the "overwhelming case" for the Scottish Government to include the Forth project in its fracking moratorium. "Ministers like to remind us how much they opposed the Iraq war," she said, "well here's a chance to send one of its main beneficiaries packing from Scotland."
Audrey Egan, the founder of the campaign group, Frack Off Fife, argued that UCG had been scientifically proved unsafe and unnecessary. “The Firth of Forth should not be used as a test-bed for untested technologies,” she said.
“Its multi-marine species habitat will be under threat from polluted water, as will the livelihoods surrounding the river that rely on it.”
Cluff Natural Resources decline to comment, though it expressed delight when it announced the tie-up with Halliburton. “We are excited about the prospect of developing a strategic relationship,” said chairman and chief executive Algy Cluff.
“Halliburton is one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry and its expertise and capabilities offer our company the opportunity to accelerate the development and commercialisation of our UCG assets.”
Halliburton did not respond to requests to comment. According to the company website, it always put safety first. “Solving customer challenges is second only to keeping everyone safe and healthy,” it says.
“Turning our commitments into practice is at the heart of our journey to zero - a concerted effort to achieve zero health, safety and environmental incidents every day, all the time.”