HC Deb 14 November 1955 vol 546 cc27-8
37. Mr. D. Price

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what progress has been made in experimental work on the underground gasification of coal.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

For over three months gas from underground gasification has been produced experimentally at a site in Worcestershire. 600 kW. of electricity could have been generated from the gas so far produced and production continues. A report on these experiments will be published shortly. I am expecting the results of independent cost estimates within the next three weeks and I shall then decide, in consultation with the National Coal Board and the Central Electricity Authority, how best to exploit the success already achieved in this experimental work.

Mr. Price

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are great prizes open to his Department if he goes ahead with these experiments, as between 500 million and 1,000 million tons of unmineable coal would be available for the power resources of the nation if these experiments proved entirely successful?

Mr. Lloyd

Of course, these are early days to be sure that these successful experiments can be exploited economically, but my Friend is absolutely right, and I am sure the House will agree that in the present difficult position in the output of coal and shortage of miners it would be a very great gain if we could get a supply of coal energy without miners having to go underground. As far as we can see at present, although there are very large amounts of coal potentially usable in this way, in the years immediately ahead we can see only a marginal contribution to our energy requirements; but nevertheless it is a very important experiment.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the success of these experiments after so many years—I think they began in 1948 or 1949—is very gratifying? Could he say whether he expects that use could be made of the gas so produced in abundance near the sites where the underground gasification takes place, or is he contemplating carrying the gas over a wider field?

Mr. Lloyd

The crucial turning point in the experiments came when the ideas of electro linkage underground or of pushing down high pressure gas were abandoned and some simple galleries and directed drilling, as used by the oil industry, to pierce the coal seams were used. We are advised that it would not be economic to take the gas away for use, but that the best method would appear to be to use the gas in gas engines to generate electricity, on or near the site of extraction as the right hon. Member suggested.

Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison

Can my right hon. Friend say whether Worcestershire is the only area where such experimental work is going on? Are there not other places suitable?

Mr. Lloyd

There was also an experiment at Newman Spinney near Chesterfield.