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Methane

Volume 649: debated on Monday 13 November 1961

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10.

asked the Minister for Power what general directions he has given to the Gas Council concerning the distribution of imported methane gas.

When this takes place, will it have any bearing on the installation of Lurgi plants, and, if so is there not danger of this leading to wasteful capital expenditure?

No, Sir. The plans for distributing this gas are to take it by trunk main across the centre of England to the North-West, and the North-Western Gas Board is one of the boards which will benefit. It will therefore pass very close to the present Lurgi plant at Coleshill near Birmingham, and no doubt if the Lurgi study group showed that the process was fully economic a plant would be built somewhere in that area where methane would be available to enrich the lean gas made by that process.

11.

asked the Minister of Power what alternative plans have been placed before him by the gas industry to ensure a safe supply of natural gas whatever might happen to supplies from North Africa.

If methane imports were interrupted, gas supplies would be maintained by increasing gas manufacture at other plants and by running the methane reforming plants on other raw materials.

Are alternative measures being put to the Minister if North Africa proves to be—as our oil importing areas have proved to be—a politically unstable area? Is the Minister not aware that when the first full year's gas imports are brought into this country they will be equivalent to the loss of 2,500 coal miners and that this plant, plus the uncontrolled import of oil, will have disastrous consequences to the mining industry?

It is difficult to say with certainty how much coal will be displaced and, therefore, how many miners' output will be affected, because much depends on the extent to which gas sales increase. If they increase substantially because of this new cheaper fuel, the coal displacement may be less than we expect at present.

Is the Minister aware that the first year's operation intends to bring into the country the equivalent of 800,000 tons of coal, which is the equivalent of the annual output of 2,500 miners? If this is coming in, displacement is bound to occur and, in addition to the oil imports, it will have a very bad effect on the mining industry.

The point which I am trying to convey is that the displacement of coal depends on the likely demand for gas in the future, and if methane had not displaced that amount of coal I would probably have been asked to agree to other imports of oil-based feed stock, so that the position would have been much the same.

13.

asked the Minister of Power what inquiries were instituted by his Department with regard the importation of supplies of natural gas from Holland rather than from the Sahara.

The extent of the natural gas deposit in Holland is, I understand, still uncertain, and the possibility of gas being available for export even more so.

Is my right bon. Friend aware that the Council of Europe, in its last report, stated that there were large reserves of natural gas in Holland and the cost of transporting gas was 80 per cent. of the cost of selling it? Surely it would be worth while thoroughly investigating the Dutch position, since, if methane has to be imported, it might be much cheaper and more reliable than importing methane from the Sahara?

Certainly, I think that all these possibilities ought to be explored very closely indeed. I am told that the possibility of gas being available from Holland in the near future for this country is not certain enough to justify me in turning down the concrete proposals I accepted last week.

If the Lurgi proposals are being proceeded with, would it not be better to leave the decision on methane for a while until we get a definite decision on Lurgi and Dutch supplies?

The decision that I took a few days ago does not in any way compromise the Lurgi development. If Lurgi is shown to be economic, it will go forward just as if the methane proposals had not been approved. The methane proposals will, I believe, help the Lurgi cases because the gas for enriching will then be readily available.

21.

asked the Minister of Power if he will give a general direction to the Gas Council that, in constructing pipe-lines necessary for the transmission of methane, they should at the same time provide for the parallel construction of high pressure pipe-lines to carry Lurgi gas from the Midlands.

No, Sir. The Gas Council is keenly interested in any possible development of the proposed national gas grid.

Will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Gas Council to provide the same facilities for the development of the Lurgi process as it intends to provide for the distribution of methane?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is on the right Question here. He has another one on this subject. This Question is about pipe-lines. Perhaps I can give him the answer to his supplementary question when I answer his next Question.

With due respect, my supplementary question was directed to this Question. I want the same facilities given for the development of the Lurgi process as will be given for the development of methane.

This is a hypothetical question at the moment. It depends or what the Study Group discovers. When the Study Group has made its report, the Gas Council will no doubt consider it. If Lurgi is competitive, the Council will no doubt decide to go forward. I think I can give the hon. Gentleman further information in a later Question.

24.

asked the Minister of Power whether he has received an assurance from the Gas Council that if the Lurgi study shows that a large plant would be competitive with imported methane, they will proceed immediately to erect such a plant.

No Sir: but if an additional Lurgi plant appears to be the best means of providing a cheap, clean and reliable gas, the Council will certainly go forward with it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread disquiet in the coal mining industry that the Gas Council intends to dispose of the Lurgi process and concentrate on importing methane gas? Can he give a definite assurance this afternoon that that is not so and that the Gas Council will proceed with the Lurgi process?

I cannot give that definite assurance without knowing the facts which the Lurgi Study Group will disclose. I do not think that any of us would want the Gas Council to go forward with a Lurgi plant if the plant were not competitive. However, if the Lurgi plant is shown to be competitive by the Study Group and fulfils the conditions of my Answer, I am certain that the Gas Council will want to go forward.

When is the Study Group, which has been broody for so long now, likely to submit its report?

It has not been broody for all that long, but I imagine that it will not sit for a great deal longer. On the other hand, I do not think that it will report quite as early as some people seem to expect because it still has a great deal of work to do.

As the report is expected in two or three months' time, why did the Minister take the decision to assist the Gas Council now? Could he not have waited for two or three months longer to see if the economics of gasifying coal through the Lurgi process were even better than this importation plan?

The hon. Gentleman is continually making the mistake of thinking that these two projects are alternatives. I do not see them as alternatives. I believe they supplement one another.