£1m study to help inform gas storage prospectors

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A NEW geological survey has provided further evidence that East Antrim salt deposits could be suitable for the development of energy storage facilities, including natural gas.

The three-year study commissioned by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment investigated Northern Ireland’s suitability for safe underground storage of energy sources including compressed air, carbon dioxide capture and gas. In particular, it focused on Larne and the adjacent off-shore Irish Sea areas and the thick beds of underground salt laid down in the Permian and Triassic ages that could be suitable for the development of storage facilities.

The £1 million Energy Storage Study was carried out by DETI in cooperation with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) and the British Geological Survey (BGS), using 2D seismic data acquired mainly through a survey carried out in September, 2009 off the coast of East Antrim by the MV Fugro Meridian.

Data attained will enable a more detailed understanding of the geology below the sea bed.

DETI Minister Arlene Foster has welcomed the completion of the significant research project, adding that the study will be an invaluable resource for companies interested in the development of underground energy storage facilities.

Mrs Foster said: “The results of the Energy Storage Study will help planning for the development of safe underground energy storage facilities in Northern Ireland. Potential investors, who are interested in the development of gas storage facilities, compressed air storage, or the storage of carbon dioxide will now be able to use the data to make informed decisions.”

The Minister added: “The development of energy storage facilities would contribute significantly towards meeting some of the aims of the Department’s Strategic Energy Framework. I therefore hope that the results will encourage private sector development of underground energy storage projects suitable for strategic requirements both now and in the future. The research will also be of interest to the renewables sector for possible offshore renewable energy projects.”

The main study reports can be found on the DETI Energy and GSNI websites at: http://www.detini.gov.uk/energy_study_reports and http://www.bgs.ac.uk/gsni/energy/storage/

East Antrim is unique within Northern Ireland in having thick beds of salt which may be suitable for the development of energy storage facilities. Underground gas storage has advantages over surface storage because of the higher pressures at which the gas is contained. Similarly, compressed air can be stored and released to help generate electricity, thus promoting the more efficient use of fossil fuel.

The Energy Storage Study states that the seismic probe “suggests that both Late Permian and the Middle Triassic salts may have potential for construction of salt caverns in four areas, subject to further more detailed technical assessments”.

It cautions, however, that it appears the thicker salt beds are a considerable distance from land, which “significantly reduces their potential for the construction of gas storage caverns because directional drilling from an onshore location becomes more expensive and difficult with increased horizontal displacement”.

The report goes on to indicate that salt layers under the sea bed close to Islandmagee appear to have the “greatest potential”, as they are nearer to land and close to the Northern Ireland gas infrastructure.

Last week, the Larne Times reported that the Northern Ireland Utility Regulator could be ready by the end of January, 2012 to accept licence applications for the construction of natural gas storage sites.

Two consortia have initiated plans to develop the province’s first storage facilities: Islandmagee Storage proposes to secure it in excavated caverns in the salt deposits under Larne Lough and North East Storage is investigating salt layers inland.

Each company has carried out its own seismic survey.