Larne Lough gas caverns: NI court to hear legal challenge
Local campaign group No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland are taking their battle against a hugely damaging fossil fuel development at Larne Lough to the High Court in Belfast today (Tuesday 2 May).
The judicial review hearing, which is scheduled to last four days, seeks to overturn the decision of former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] minister Edwin Poots to authorise the construction of a massive fossil fuel gas development planned for under the seabed of Larne Lough.
Under these plans, seven underground caverns, each the size of a skyscraper, would be carved out of salt layers under the lough by a method known as solution mining. The resulting hypersaline salt and chemical solution created by this excavation process would then be discharged into the sea in a protected marine area near Islandmagee creating a “dead zone” where no marine life could survive.
Eleven Northern Ireland Priority Species, which are given protection under legislation, are found within 100 meters of the discharge point, including harbour porpoise and skate. The groups warn that the hypersaline nature and chemical composition of this discharge will also extend for several kilometres and will have a significant detrimental effect on the local environment.
The development will take approximately 12 years to become fully operational and the energy required to fill the caverns with gas and keep it at a safe temperature and pressure will make it one of Northern Ireland's largest energy users. Furthermore, at a time of climate emergency, every effort should be made to move away from fossil fuels to meet ambitious net zero climate targets.
This is the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, where the courts will be asked to grapple with the implications of climate change. The groups will argue that developments that stand to impact the local environment and climate change goals so drastically should be subject to the highest degree of decision making, accountability and transparency.
Lisa Dobbie, of No Gas Caverns, said:
“We are a group of ordinary people forced to take extraordinary action against a government department who we believe have failed to properly assess the impacts of this highly damaging fossil fuel project.
“It is incredibly difficult for citizens to access environmental justice in Northern Ireland, but with the actions of a very determined group of residents, an expert legal team and the support of hundreds of people who have donated so generously, we stand with Friends of the Earth ready for this important case to proceed.”
James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, said:
“We are standing today with the residents of Islandmagee to protect this beautiful part of Northern Ireland. The destruction caused by this mining is landscape trauma. The gas caverns project is not wanted and is not welcome. We are also in court today because of flagrant breaches of environmental law.
“Let’s be in no doubt that we will not be held to ransom to the fossil fuel companies that are behind this project. They are on the wrong side of history if they think they can drive through new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate emergency.”
In bringing this legal challenge, the environmental campaigning groups have been proudly supported by RSPB, Ulster Wildlife, Wild Justice, Uplift UK, Law for Change and The PILS project and take this opportunity to thank these organisations for their support to date. Both campaigning groups would like to thank the many members of the general public for their continued support in this legal battle.
As part of their numerous grounds of challenge, No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth will argue that the minister was required to consider the need for the project and its climate change implications. His assessment of these issues was based on an irrelevant consideration; namely the potential for the caverns to be used for hydrogen storage in the future. As confirmed by solicitors acting for Islandmagee Energy Ltd, hydrogen storage “forms no part of this application” and as such, the groups will argue that it was an irrelevant consideration in granting the licences.
Furthermore, in assessing the potential for it to contribute to energy security, the minister failed to take account of a material consideration, namely the substantial energy use of the project. The project is expected to be one of the biggest power consumers in Northern Ireland at peak operations.
The groups will also argue that the proposed gas caverns development is “cross-cutting”, “significant” and “controversial” - and as such the minister was required to refer them to the Executive Committee under section 20(3) and/or section 20(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
DAERA’s notice of Environmental Consent Decision can be found here. https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/application-marine-licence-islandmagee-gas-storage-project-notice-environmental-consent-decision