'Keep options open for public inquiry' into Islandmagee gas storage project - Dickson

The option of a public inquiry into issues related to the Islandmagee gas storage project should be kept open, East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson has said.

Aerial view of Islandmagee.

An enquiry could consider the project’s application for a marine construction licence, as well as matters related to discharge consent and Utility Regulator consents.

The scheme would consist of several underground caverns, capable of storing up to 500 million cubic metres of gas in Permian salt beds.

InfraStrata PLC, the company behind the proposed development, said it was a "well-proven technique that represents the most environmentally-friendly, safe and efficient method of storing large volumes of natural gas".

Stewart Dickson MLA.

It was expected to employ hundreds of people during construction and 40 once fully functional, according to the firm.

However, the plans have attracted considerable opposition in both the local area and further afield.

Last year, a coalition of environmental groups united as the Marine Task Force expressed concerns that the project could pose a threat to the area.

The task force said the development would see "significant underwater construction and associated noise disturbance, the discharge of brine waste product and the permanent loss of sea floor habitat – affecting harbour porpoises, seals, puffins, guillemots, terns and reefs."

Mr Dickson recently wrote to the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to address whether a public enquiry will be established to address issues related to the project.

“It is vital that the right call is made on this project as the reverberations for the environment and wildlife could be considerable," the Alliance Party representative said.

"These are always difficult decisions, especially at a time when new jobs are desperately needed, and so I think the best course of action for the Minister is to refer this matter to a public enquiry so every issue can be considered in turn.”

In response to Mr Dickson’s written question, the Minister responded by stating he is expecting to be presented with "a portfolio of documents" related to the project’s application.

Before deciding next steps, there will be a review of the existing abstraction licence and discharge consent, and other consenting authorities will need to be engaged – a responsibility which will lie with the developer.

Crucially, Mr Dickson said, the response left the door open to the possibility of a public enquiry before any final determination.

“I am glad to hear that the Minister is keeping all of his options on the table in regard to this application - especially the option for a public enquiry," he added.

"The Minister freely recognises that he serves Northern Ireland in its entirety, and an enquiry will go a long way towards demonstrating this responsibility to the people.”