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A septuagenarian natural resources entrepreneur claims that coal lying deep under Britain’s seabed can become a bigger — and safer — new source of energy than shale gas.

Algy Cluff, 73, who in the 1970s discovered one of the North Sea’s biggest oilfields, has founded his fifth listed company to prove the theory.

Cluff Natural Resources won two more licences on Friday to develop coal deposits off the coast of Cumbria and in Largo Bay, Fife, in Scotland. Added to its existing licences, its total UK acreage stands at nearly 31,000 hectares.

His plan is to burn the coal to extract syngas using an underground coal gasification process, which then can supply gas power stations. Until recently, concerns over possible contamination of the water table have held back the technology onshore, but new horizontal drilling techniques developed by the oil and gas industry mean that it is possible to access from land coal deposits lying offshore where there is no issue with the water table.

“This country is surrounded by billions of tonnes of coal,” Mr Cluff said. “It’s always been an obsession of mine ever since the 1970s when I was drilling for oil in the North Sea — we saw these huge seams of coal. It’s a potential game-changer if it works. North Sea oil might become North Sea coal in a number of years.”

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