LARNE Council has investigated concerns by Islandmagee residents over the creation of a proposed £250m natural gas facility at Larne Lough.
Islandmagee Storage Limited (IMSL) has submitted a planning application to create a 500 million cubic metre natural gas storage facility in Permian salt beds almost a mile beneath the lough.
The applicant claims that facility would be able to satisfy Northern Ireland’s peak demand for gas for over 60 days, reducing the risk of price hikes due to shortages.
However, a number of local people have spoken out against the plans, citing fears over a range of issues including noise levels, health and safety, pollution, inadequate roads infrastructure and the potential effect on tourism.
The council’s environmental health department has now carried out its own research into the proposed facility, with particular focus on the concerns of local people.
Head of environmental health, Sean Martin presented his findings to councillors at Monday’s meeting of the environment committee.
Mr Martin told members that he had spoken with council officers in other areas of the UK where natural gas storage facilities had been developed, and found that noise pollution had not been a major problem.
“There were some complaints made over the movement of heavy vehicles outside permitted operating times, and reports of a rumbling noise at certain times, but on the whole there were no huge issue in terms of noise levels,” he said.
However, he added that his department was “not yet happy” with the information supplied by the IMSL regarding noise levels and would be seeking more detailed information from the applicant.
Concerned residents also highlighted the issue of health and safety, such as the risk of explosions.
While Mr Martin said there was no disputing that this had happened at gas storage facilities in the USA, he added that the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland was not advising against the application.
In relation to claims that the roads infrastructure in Islandmagee was not up to the task of coping with the volume of heavy traffic associated with this project, Mr Martin said: “Browns Bay Road would be the main road used during the construction phase, with Hollow Road to be used on busy days such as Bank Holidays.
“Roads Service has not yet made its views clear on this matter, but as far as I am concerned, these roads have supported heavy traffic from the power station and I am wondering why this situation would be any different.”
One of the main objections to the application relates to the pumping of brine into the sea off the coast of Islandmagee, which lobbyists fear will have a severe impact on marine wildlife.
Mr Martin said he had discussions with members of the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority in Yorkshire, where gas storage facilities have been in operation for a number of years.
“In the experience, the discharge of super-saturated brine into the sea has had no noticeable impact,” he said.
The officer added that the pumping of brine into the sea was not part in the same planning application as the gas storage facility, and would only be submitted after a test drilling had taken place. “It is subject to a separate approval process and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency will not consider it until after planning consent has been given,” Mr Martin said.
With regard to the potential impact on tourism, members were told that the majority of the disturbances would be on the west side of Islandmagee, whereas the majority of tourist destinations are on the east coast.
“The only activity on that side of the island will be the construction of a pipeline, which will only cause minor disturbance,” he added.
Councillor Roy Beggs thanked the officer for his “comprehensive” report and said: “You have seriously addressed the concerns of residents and made it clear that you will protect their interests.”
Mr Beggs proposed that the report should be passed on to the Planning Service to reflect the views of the council regarding the application, which was approved by members.