Legal challenge to DAERA over approval for gas storage project at Islandmagee

Environmental campaigners are trying to block a gas project under Larne Lough, which they say undermines action on climate change and threatens local wildlife.

By Graeme Cousins
Monday, 14th February 2022, 7:00 am
Larne Lough at Islandmagee
Larne Lough at Islandmagee

No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland have jointly launched legal proceedings against the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs after it gave environmental consent to a marine licence for the Islandmagee Gas Storage Project.

Under the plans, seven underground caverns would be carved out of salt layers under the lough by a method known as solution mining.

The campaigners say that the resulting hyper saline salt solution, created by this excavation process, would then be discharged into the sea near Islandmagee creating a ‘dead zone’ where no marine life could survive.

They say the gas caverns plan will also have an adverse impact on efforts to deal with the climate crisis as, during the operational phase, the caverns will be one of Northern Ireland’s largest energy users.

No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth NI filed papers to the High Court in Belfast, earlier this month, requesting a judicial review. They are challenging DAERA over a number of issues relating to Islandmagee Energy Limited’s gas storage caverns proposal.

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.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs commented yesterday: “The matter is the subject of litigation and the Department is not in a position to comment further.”

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