Northern Ireland’s Utility Regulator could start to accept licence requests to build natural gas storage sites by the end of January, 2012.
Two consortia have initiated plans in Larne to develop the province’s first storage facilities: Islandmagee Storage proposes to secure it in excavated salt caverns under Larne Lough, and North East Storage (NES) is investigating the suitability of salt deposits inland.
The only salt layers on the island of Ireland are in the Larne area and ideally situated close to the gas pipelines, which would make them ideal locations for an underground gas storage facility to address the daily, weekly and fluctuations in gas demand.
At present, natural gas is piped in to Ireland from Great Britain, but the addition of a storage facility would make it possible to reverse the flow to meet demand in Britain.
The Utility Regulator is now consulting on whether new sites should be exempt from granting third-party access and whether unused capacity should be re-released to the market.
Comments need to reach the Utility Regulator by January 11.
Islandmagee Storage is a 65:35 partnership between oil and gas exploration company InfraStrata and Mutual Energy subsidiary Moyle Energy.
The project plans to develop a 500 million cubic metre site that could have an injection rate of 12 million cubic metres per day and a withdrawal rate of 22 million cubic metres per day.
North East Storage (NES) is a venture between the Republic’s Bord Gáis and GDF SUEZ’s storage subsidiary Storengy. It is looking at a 300 million cubic metre capacity onshore facility. Indicative withdrawal rates are 15-20 million cubic metres per day, while injection rates could be 6-8 million cubic metres per day.
This week, NES informed Larne Borough Council that construction has been completed on a test drilling site at Raloo. Next spring, the firm is to drill to a depth of one mile (1600 metres) to remove a sample of the salt core.
“The next step in the site preparation works is to drill a conductor pipe and lay the initial casing before the main rig arrives on site,” the company explained.
“The conductor pipe will bore down about 120m beyond the basalt rock layer and is expected to take approximately two weeks to complete. This period of drilling will have very little impact on local residents and will only take place during the day,” NES assured councillors.
The company expects that the main drilling rig will begin work in early March, operating round the clock for four to six weeks, with up to 30 people working on the site at any one time.
NES has offered to meet with the council in advance of the works to answer queries and it has given an assurance that “no further activity, over and above the geological studies, will be undertaken on the project without extensive stake holder engagement and the submission of a planning application”.