Undersea resources previously thought inaccessible look like promising energy future reserves that could power Britain for centuries, a former Newcastle University professor of energy has said.
Professor Dermot Roddy said that there may be between three trillion and 23 trillion tonnes of coal buried in Britain’s North Sea, although geologists have not yet discovered the exact scale of the deposits.
"This is thousands of times greater than all the oil and gas we have taken out so far, which totals around six billion tonnes,” he said.
"If we could extract just a few per cent of that coal it would be enough to power the UK for decades or centuries.”
Roddy will present plans to sink the first boreholes by the end of 2014 at a Royal Academy of Engineering conference.
Seismic imaging, combined with existing data from North Sea oil and gas exploration has been used to build a picture of the large coal deposits.
Imperial College of London professor of petroleum exploration Richard Selley said that such discoveries of unconvential energy stores were making redundant previously popular notions of “peak oil”, that fossil fuel reserves can be exhausted.
"A decade ago the talk was all about peak oil and gas but that has gone out of the window," he said.
"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.
“If we put aside the green issues, then in perhaps in 10 years we could be self-sufficient in gas and possibly oil too."