Environment impact study for gas storage scheme is ‘incomplete’ – objectors

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AN environmental group has again warned of a potentially “serious impact” on marine and bird life if an energy company is allowed to pump millions of litres of brine into the North Channel.

Marine Conservation NI (MCNI) also claims that an environmental impact assessment submitted in support of a plan to store natural gas in subterranean caverns below Larne Lough is “incomplete” and asks why Larne Lough and Islandmagee are excluded from a Marine Protection Zone (MPZ) proposed in a new Marine Bill for Northern Ireland.

MCNI was unable to attend an office meeting facilitated last week by Larne Borough Council after Planning Service had indicated that, in spite of 363 objections, it was willing to approve Islandmagee Storage Ltd’s application to excavate seven caverns from salt deposits under the lough and pump the waste material into the sea. However, the lobby group’s chairman, former Newtownabbey mayor Nigel Hamilton, who lives at Islandmagee, submitted a letter detailing their objections.

Reiterating a call for a public meeting, to be chaired by the Mayor, on the controversial gas storage proposal, Mr Hamilton told Larne Council: “MCNI believe that the application has serious unanswered questions and remains flawed and damaging until these are answered. The outcome of such an application and its impact on the marine environment will continue to be raised with the (environment) minister and will be questioned in the Assembly.”

Mr Hamilton added: “DOE has been answerable under EU policy for fines at Strangford Lough and the scrutiny of this and other applications of this nature will be kept under the spotlight by MCNI and Marine Taskforce. It is also important to request that council record their vote should they wish to approve this application, following the issues raised by objectors.”

MCNI claims that the decision to dispose of the brine 450 metres metres out to sea is “not justified sufficiently and is a choice made upon cost over environment”. The group also argues that the design of a specialist nozzle to push the brine expelled from leaching into the water strata “needs to be thoroughly proved to be up to the task”.

Noting the applicant’s assurance that the pumping will not cause damage beyond 10 metres of the outfall, MCNI urges the imposition of a “traffic-light system”, managed by an independent organisation on the same principles as that to be introduced in fracking, to “ensure that beyond a certain point” the pumping can be stopped “until a thorough investigation takes place and the problem corrected”.

MCNI remains convinced that high levels of brine over a four-year period “will kill large areas of marine sub-culture, sea weeds, crustaceans and small fish species, as well as damaging the potential for the existing commercial potting industry and visiting angling”, adding: “It will also impact on the quality of water and the implications for the beach standards at Portmuck and Browns Bay (which are due to be improved under the Water Directive 2015) thus ... tourism will suffer.”

The pressure group suggests extending the scope of the environmental study to include Portmuck Island, Browns Bay, Ferris Bay and Hunter Rock

MCNI also poses questions of the NI Environment Agency (NIEA). In his submission to Larne Council, Mr Hamilton wrote: “It could also be argued that the NIEA will approve this and other applications under political pressure. Can they deny these contentions and explain why Larne Lough and Islandmagee are excluded from the proposed MPZ for protection under the Marine Bill?”

Finally, MCNI asks: “Why has no attempt been made to identify the impact of the roads survey for the construction period. Prior to any approval, all consultees must approve their respective consultee responsibilities. Have all consultees approved?”