FEARS remain about potential coal gas extraction from under the sea at Musselburgh, despite the company behind the plan going out of business.

Local Green campaigner Jason Rose has called for an immediate permanent ban on underground coal gasification (UCG), claiming the community was still “vulnerable to dangerous and unnecessary drilling experiments”.

The company Five Quarter, which was based in Newcastle and backed by the UK’s biggest private landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, recently collapsed, blaming the lack of Government support.

Five Quarter had been granted exploratory underground coal gasification licences for two areas in the Firth of Forth, one off Musselburgh and one in the centre of the Firth.

UCG is an unconventional gas technology like fracking that has been stalled by a Scottish Government moratorium on development.

On March 1, Five Quarter announced that it had “no option but to cease to trade in the UK” and close its offices. “This is because global market conditions have changed, North Sea activities are in rapid decline, and there is considerable uncertainty about the direction of Government strategy for energy,” said a company statement.

According to the Coal Authority’s corporate manager, John Delaney, “an insolvency practitioner for the company may approach the authority with a request to assign the licences to another company. In this case, the authority will only consent if the new company can satisfy the authority’s criteria for holding a licence”.

Mr Rose, a Musselburgh resident, is worried that another company could bid for the licence and said the Scottish Government needed to impose an immediate permanent ban on UCG.

He explained: “When I heard that Five Quarter had gone bust, I contacted the UK Coal Authority to ask about their licence, but I got no reply. To learn that another company could bid to take over the licence is deeply worrying and shows that we must keep our guard up.

“Underground coal gasification poses a huge risk to our environment and our health, is simply incompatible with our climate change responsibilities, and has been consistently opposed by Scottish Greens.

"Unconventional gas distracts from the opportunity to invest in the clean technology and energy efficiency that can create good jobs for East Lothian.

"The Scottish Government should end the uncertainty for communities such as Musselburgh, stop spending money on research into fracking and coal gasification and turn their temporary moratorium into a permanent ban right now. Combined with East Lothian Council’s weak policy on this issue, our community remains vulnerable to dangerous and unnecessary drilling experiments.”

Colin Beattie, SNP MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, said: “I am personally absolutely opposed to fracking and UCG either in my constituency or anywhere in Scotland. The evidence from overseas is both convincing and very worrying. We do not need to take the risk of irrevocably damaging our environment.

“I welcome the Scottish Government moratorium on all forms of this extraction process and I welcome their evidence-based approach which will underpin the final decision, which I personally believe will lead to a permanent ban. Governments have to follow a transparent and publicly defensible process before reaching a conclusion. That is what good government is about.”

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said: “Fracking is currently subject to a Scottish Government moratorium while research is carried out on its impacts.

"However, as that moratorium could be lifted by the Government, our draft proposed Local Development Plan provides for that possibility by including criteria under which any fracking application would be assessed.

"It is only by having such a policy in place that East Lothian Council could competently control any such development. The proposed policy does not presume in favour of fracking.”

Dr Harry Bradbury, the chairman and chief executive of Five Quarter, said that the Government had failed to give sufficient backing for foreign investment of more than £1 billion. The aim was to create “a full carbon capture and decarbonising gas processing plant and related infrastructure to the highest global standards of excellence in environmental management,” he said.

“Five Quarter did not participate in underground coal gasification, nor so-called fracking, but had developed ‘deep gas winning’, an advanced engineering process for gas extraction without any form of environmental impact.”

Mr Bradbury argued that inexpensive and high volume gas supplies would continue to be an essential part of the UK energy mix.