Northern Ireland

Larne Lough gas storage project: Conservation groups oppose plan

Larne Lough
Image caption The project would see seven large gas storage caverns hollowed out under the lough

NI's main conservation groups have come out against a plan to develop gas storage caverns underneath Larne Lough.

They are opposed on environmental grounds and believe the potential impact on wildlife and habitats has not been properly assessed.

Infrastrata, Harland and Wolff's new owner, is the firm behind the project.

John Wood, the firm's chief executive, said it had completed a "robust series of surveys and studies", which had been sent to Stormont departments.

The firm believes its Larne Lough storage facility will create "hundreds of jobs" and provide security of power supply for a generation.

The project would see seven large storage caverns hollowed out using solution mining.

The brine solution created would be pumped across land before being discharged into the North Channel near Islandmagee in County Antrim.

The sea at Islandmagee is a protected area, as is Larne Lough which supports important tern colonies.

Image caption The proposal would see brine solution being discharged into the North Channel near Islandmagee

Some elements of the construction plan have already been approved, but a marine licence for work on the seabed is still outstanding.

A public consultation on the project closes on Friday.

In a joint response, the conservation groups said they are opposed to it.

An umbrella group, the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, represents the conservation organisations involved.

It includes:

  • Ulster Wildlife
  • the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
  • the National Trust
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful
  • WWF
  • the Marine Conservation Society
  • the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
  • Northern Ireland Environment Link

The groups have a combined membership of 100,000 people.

The task force said they were against the pumping of "super saline brine" into the sea and that construction of the discharge pipe could displace marine life, especially the protected harbour porpoise.

The North Channel is considered one of the best habitats for it in the UK.

Image copyright Randal Counihan
Image caption The North Channel is considered one of the best UK habitats for harbour porpoises

The group also said the information provided by developers in a 2010 environmental impact statement was "out of date" and the need for the project was questionable given the climate debate and commitments to restrict the use of fossil fuels.

It also raised concerns about construction noise and the impact on fish and foraging birds.

In a statement, Infrastrata's chief executive said "dozens" of people had turned out in Islandmagee to support the project during the consultation.

"We have completed a robust series of surveys and studies, which produced very encouraging results," said Mr Wood.

"All of this data was then submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for scrutiny.

"All the updated reports and data have been very well received.

"In addition, the science and technology behind the project has been proven over several decades in many locations around the world."

He added: "We look forward to creating hundreds of jobs, both in Islandmagee and Harland and Wolff, and securing the energy supply for Northern Ireland once the marine licence has been converted from its draft form to full."

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