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14/02/2022

Legal proceedings launched over Islandmagee gas project

Words: Laura Edgar
Larne Harbour / Ballygally-View-Images, Shutterstock_1344731270

No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland have launched legal proceedings against a decision to grant a marine licence for the Islandmagee gas storage project and Larne Lough.

The licence was granted to Islandmagee Energy Limited, a subsidiary of Harland & Wolff.

The Environmental Consent Decision, Full Marine Licence, Abstraction Licence and Discharge Consent was granted in October 2021 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (Daera).

The project is a salt cavern gas storage facility in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The Islandmagee peninsula is the site of Northern Ireland’s main gas-fired power station at Ballylumford – the strategic electrical interconnection point to Great Britain and the terminating point of the existing Scotland-Northern Ireland gas pipeline – which Harland & Wolff claims makes the site an ideal location for an energy project of this type.

Once completed, the facility will comprise seven underground caverns capable of storing about 500 million cubic metres of gas in Permian salt beds. It is expected to provide more than 25 per cent of the UK’s current natural gas storage capacity.

Harland & Wolff states that this is the “most environmentally friendly, safe and efficient method of storing large volumes of gas”.

But No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland warn that the scheme would have a “significant detrimental impact on the local environment and sea life, as well as undermining efforts to counter the climate crisis”.

They maintain that the hypersaline salt solution created by the excavation process would be discharged into the sea near Islandmagee, resulting in a “dead zone” where marine life could not survive. They highlight that 11 Northern Ireland Priority Species protected under legislation, “are found within 100 metres of the discharge point”.

No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth NI have filed an application requesting a judicial review with the High Court in Belfast. 

The challenge relates to several issues, including:

  • The failure to properly assess the need for the scheme and take into account the energy use of the project.
  • The decision is based on inadequate environmental information, such as carrying out bird surveys at the wrong time of year.
  • The application of less stringent EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) regulations: Daera could have assessed the project under 2017 Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, but chose instead to apply less stringent regulations from 2011. 
  • No decommissioning plan has been assessed: the decommissioning of the caverns gives rise to a huge financial and environmental liability. 

Lisa Dobbie, from No Gas Caverns, said: “We are delighted that Friends of the Earth have joined as co-applicants in legal proceedings against the department. To have the support of such a prestigious organisation is a huge boost to local residents who have fought for years to protect where we live from these huge unnecessary gas caverns and polluting hypersaline brine being pumped into our seas.

“This discharge could severely harm our porpoise, puffin and other priority species and no decommissioning plan for the caverns has been assessed or conditioned in the marine licence.

“We have a very experienced legal team, very strong points of legal challenge and we look forward to working with Friends of the Earth to stop this polluting unnecessary fossil fuel project.”

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director, James Orr, said: “These ill-conceived plans to create gas storage caverns under Larne Lough are a significant threat to the local environment and wildlife and will seriously undermine efforts to confront the climate crisis.

“If this scheme goes ahead, highly polluting hypersaline brine will be pumped into the sea, 450 metres off the coast creating a ‘dead zone’ in an area teeming with wildlife, including seals, sea otters, dolphins and porpoises.

“It’s little wonder local people are angry. This beautiful area is a major tourist attraction and an area of international importance for wildlife.

“We believe Daera decision-making over this proposal is riddled with errors and is deeply flawed, which is why we are challenging it in court.”

Daera’s notice can be found here. 

Image credit | Ballygally View Images, Shutterstock

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