Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs Jnr has commented on news that the DoE Has awarded planning permission for the construction of gas storage in salt caverns under Larne Lough at Islandmagee.
The East Antrim MLA said:
“It was always likely that one of the several underground gas storage projects which have been proposed in the East Antrim area would be given the green light to go ahead. It appears to me that a decision has been made some time ago, at a high strategic level, that Northern Ireland needs natural gas storage facilities. I understand that the test bore holes recently drilled at Ballyvallagh, above Glenoe showed that the storage of gas there was not geologically feasible, so the Islandmagee project became much more likely to be approved.
I would have concerns that no full boreholes have yet been drilled and tested by the Islandmagee/Portland gas company, so there is no guarantee that the salt under Larne Lough will be suitable for gas storage there either. Also there are still numerous other licencing, environmental and health and safety applications still to be processed before this project can go ahead.
I fully understand the concerns which have been expressed by the significant amount of objectors to the planning application. I share the concern about the issue of the dispersal at sea of the brine which will be produced by leaching out caverns in the underground salt layers, and how it could affect the marine environment. Careful monitoring will be required to ensure the environmental impact does not have long reaching consequences.
Fundamentally, however, I believe that the genuine local concerns about this project are based upon the fact that Islandmagee has been subject to numerous major strategic energy projects over the years- the Moyle gas interconnector across the North Channel to Scotland, the new CCGT power station at Ballylumford for example. These all help keep the lights on all over Northern Ireland, but the local environment pays the price. There needs to be demonstrable community benefits for the local people who live around Larne Lough, and who are going to face disruption if this does get to the construction stage. I am aware that the gas company have set up a charitable Community Trust, but more needs to be done. It is frankly unacceptable how few people in the Larne Borough have access to natural gas for their domestic heating and cooking, given that it has been piped into Islandmagee from Scotland since 1996. The Minister for Enterprise who has so warmly welcomed this project needs to do more to expand the availability of natural gas as an energy source for people in my constituency.”