Harland & Wolff, the shipyard behind the Titanic’s construction, has successfully countered an objection from Friends of the Earth, securing permission to establish a natural gas storage facility in Northern Ireland.
The company’s plan is to utilize a series of salt caverns beneath Larne Lough, located off County Antrim’s coast, to hold gas over a kilometre below sea level.
This site would hold a 14-day gas supply for Northern Ireland, equivalent to approximately 25% of the UK’s storage requirements.
The facility is projected to serve for 40 years and offers the flexibility to house hydrogen as a more environmentally friendly substitute once natural gas usage is reduced.
The procedure involves filling the caverns with seawater to erode the salt, then discharging it back into the bay. Environmental activists have raised concerns, stating this would lead to a saline “dead zone” detrimental to marine life.
The fluctuating natural gas prices, particularly after Russia’s actions in Ukraine, highlight the UK’s need for enhanced energy storage resilience. Even though energy company Centrica resumed operations at its Rough storage site last year, industry leaders argue for further expansion.
In a detailed six-page ruling, Mr. Justice Humphreys rejected all seven objections raised against the project.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth, alongside No Gas Caverns, had sought to halt the initiative.
They argued that other authorities should have been consulted on the proposal, that it violated environmental laws, and claimed that not enough research had been conducted on the implications of closing down the site in the future.
The area houses protected species, including the harbour porpoise.
The court noted that Islandmagee Energy Limited, a subsidiary of Harland & Wolff, has pledged to adhere to regulations when decommissioning the site after its estimated 40-year operational period.
While it was revealed in court that Islandmagee had mistakenly estimated the region impacted by the salt discharge, the judge concluded that the campaigners hadn’t proven a significant risk arising from this miscalculation.
The assertion that Edwin Poots, the then environment minister, had exceeded his authority in approving the storage was also rejected by the judge.
Harland & Wolff commented: “We’ll thoroughly review the court’s decision and determine our subsequent actions, keeping in mind the judgment’s conclusions and the interests of our stakeholders.”
James Orr, the Northern Ireland director for Friends of the Earth, expressed his disappointment: “This verdict is a setback for our environment.” He emphasized that their advocacy efforts are “not at an end” and added, “Given the current climate crisis, we ought to leverage the economic gains from focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency, rather than endorsing more expensive and polluting fossil fuel ventures.
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