Major gas storage project at Larne Lough to proceed amid wildlife concerns

The site of the proposed Islandmagee gas storage facility.

THE company behind plans to develop a major gas storage project off the Co Antrim coast has claimed it can help protect businesses and consumers against volatility in the energy market.

Infrastrata announced on Wednesday that it has been granted a marine construction licence for the Islandmagee project, paving the way for the development of seven large caverns below Larne Lough.

The group, which now also owns the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, said the massive storage units will be capable of holding around 500 million cubic metres of natural gas, equivalent to around 25 per cent of the UK’s storage capacity.

It comes against a backdrop of soaring gas prices and concern over the limited nature of the UK’s current gas storage facilities.

The UK has one of Europe’s lowest gas storage capacities, with just one per cent of its annual demand held in reserve.

That compares to 20-30 per cent in some other European countries.

Infrastrata has claimed the Islandmagee scheme could provide security of supply during peak demand for up to 14 days for Northern Ireland.

But the project remains controversial among environmental campaigners and conservationists, who are concerned about the use of brine solution to hollow out the storage caverns.

Both the sea at Islandmagee and Larne Lough are protected areas, supporting colonies of tern birds. The North Channel is also considered a major habitat for harbour porpoises.

An umbrella group including the north’s main conservation organisations have already come out against the plans.

The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force includes the RSPB NI, National Trust, WWF, Ulster Wildlife and Friends of the Earth.

The group’s chair Nigel Hamilton claimed the pumping of brine into the natural environment “will devastate and kill several miles of coast around Portmuck and Brown's Bay”.

Infrastrata said the project will support 400 jobs during the construction phase, with up to 1,200 indirect jobs potentially created.

Group chief executive, John Wood, said the green light to proceed to the construction phase is “good news for consumers and businesses in the UK who are currently experiencing distressing hikes in energy prices and fears of potential blackouts.”

He added: “With the current energy supply crisis, everyone now understands just how important gas storage is to secure supply and protect against extreme volatility in gas and power prices in the UK.

“We are delighted with this major step forward in the project’s journey, paving the way for the construction of our facilities.”

Mr Hood also confirmed that Infrastrata has longer term ambitions to store hydrogen at the Islandmagee site, describing it as a long term solution to the seasonal nature of wind power.

“Excess wind generated power can be used to produce green hydrogen which can then be stored in salt caverns for future use during peak demand periods,” he said.

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