Northern Ireland

Attwood gives go-ahead to Larne Lough gas scheme

How the storage facility will look above ground
Image caption The facility will be to the right of Ballylumford power station

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has given the go-ahead for a £400m undersea natural gas storage facility a mile beneath Larne Lough.

The development in County Antrim will allow for storage for 500 million cubic metres of natural gas in caverns a mile under the lough.

The scheme would create the first energy bank of its kind on the island of Ireland.

Imported natural gas would be stored in seven caverns or caves.

However, environmentalists have already voiced their objections to the process, claiming it could have a serious impact on marine and bird life.

The underground storage areas are created by removing salt in the rock strata with equipment similar to high pressure water jets.

The waste salt solution, or brine, would then be deposited into the lough or the North Channel.

More than 350 complaints have been made to planners.

Nigel Hamilton, from Marine Conservation Northern Ireland, is among those who have objected to the project.

He said local residents were concerned about the expulsion of brine from the underwater caverns.

Mr Hamilton also said the construction would bring "a considerable amount of high, heavy vehicle traffic movements on to the island on what are particularly narrow roads, unsuitable for this type of traffic movement, over a three to four year period".

Image caption The gas storage chambers will be a mile underground

In spite of environmentalists' objections, Environment Minister Alex Attwood is expected gave the necessary planning consent on Thursday.

The application has been made by Islandmagee Storage Limited, a joint venture between InfraStrata and Mutual Energy, the company which owns the Moyle Electricity interconnector, which links the power grid in Northern Ireland with Scotland's.

Before any work begins, the company behind the project will have to raise the necessary capital, which is thought to be in the region of £400m.

A regulated all-Ireland gas market would also be required.

If built, the project could hold enough gas to power all the energy requirements on the island of Ireland for six weeks.

The storage scheme would act as an energy bank for the gas industry with gas sold on to industrial users.

Potential customers would include companies like Airtricity's parent company, SSE, Bord Gais and other large scale industrial users.

Ninety per cent of Northern Ireland's gas is supplied by an underwater pipeline from Scotland, which comes ashore at Ballylumford power station at Islandmagee.

The planned storage plant is near the power station.

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