Court of Appeal to hear legal challenge by campaigners against Islandmagee gas caverns storage project

Campaigners opposed to a gas storage project off Islandmagee in east Antrim will return to court again today (Tuesday).
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The Court of Appeal in Belfast will hear a legal challenge by Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland and No Gas Caverns over plans to construct seven gas storage caverns underneath Larne Lough.

The two-day hearing follows a High Court ruling of last year that the project was lawful. In August 2023, Mr Justice Humphreys rejected opponents’ claims that then Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots unlawfully approved the facility at Larne Lough without obtaining consent from Executive Committee colleagues.

In 2021, Mr Poots gave consent for the proposed development by Islandmagee Energy Ltd. It is estimated that the units could provide more than 25% of the UK’s natural gas storage capacity.

Laganside court complex. Photo: National WorldLaganside court complex. Photo: National World
Laganside court complex. Photo: National World

Friends of the Earth NI and No Gas Cavern allege there are two principal grounds of appeal:

“The failure to refer the applications to the Executive Committee.

“The taking into account of an irrelevant consideration, namely the community fund to mitigate the impacts of the development.”

The storage plans involve carving caverns at a depth 1,350m below sea level by a process known as solution mining. Located within special protection and conservation areas, the project is expected to last for 40 years. The units would then require to be decommissioned at the end of their lifespan.

Those opposed allege the excavation process will lead to hypersaline salt and chemical solution being discharged into the sea near Islandmagee, creating a “dead zone” threat to marine life. Eleven protected priority species, including harbour porpoise and skate, are found within 100 metres of the discharge point.

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James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, said “we are proud to be standing with No Gas Caverns in defending Larne Lough’s precious environment and wildlife”.

He also claimed: “We also have a legal obligation and a moral duty to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, and this project is not in-line with the imperative to transition away from fossil fuels. Increasing our dependence on carbon intensive energy systems will maintain Northern Ireland’s position as a climate laggard.”

Thanking Friends of the Earth for their support, Lisa Dobbie, of No Gas Caverns, said “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 continue to fight for nature and our precious environment.”