New technologies have revealed significant deposits of coal under the North Sea that could realistically power Britain for centuries.
Dermot Roddy, a former professor of energy at Newcastle University, told the Sunday Times: “We think there are between three trillion and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried under the North Sea.”
To put these figures into perspective, the current amount extracted from the North Sea totals around 6 billion 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," Mr. Roddy continued.
Technological advances are making previously inaccessible stores such as these realistically reachable. Gasification, for example, has allowed underground pumps to turn the coal into gas useful for power generation.
In response to the new discoveries, Richard Selley, Professor of petroleum exploration at Imperial College London said "A decade ago the talk was all about peak oil and gas but that has gone out of the window.”
"The big game-changer is seismic imaging, which has become so sensitive that we can now pinpoint the 'sweet spots' where shale gas, oil and coal are to be found.
"There have also been huge improvements in horizontal drilling… and in hydraulic fracturing, which lets us get the gas and oil out of rock.”
“In perhaps 10 years we could be self-sufficient in gas and possibly oil too."
Mr. Roddy is expected to reveal plans to sink the first boreholes into the seabed using a rig on the coastline around Tynemouth in the north east later this year.