Company ‘must address’ job creation prospects

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CALLS have been made for the developers behind the planned £400m natural gas storage facility at Islandmagee to give assurances that the project will result in the creation of local jobs.

The controversial proposal by Islandmagee Storage Ltd (IMSL) would see the creation of caverns deep under Larne Lough, which would be used to store 500 million cubic metres of natural gas – enough to satisfy Northern Ireland’s peak demand for about 60 days.

A technique known as leaching would be used to dissolve ancient salt deposits and form large egg-shaped cavities.

The waste salt solution, or brine, would then be deposited out at sea.

However, a number of groups – including environmentalists and local residents – have raised concerns about the project and fear the highly concentrated brine could damage the local marine ecosystem.

And Larne Borough Council has agreed to write to director of IMSL, Paddy Larkin to ask him to come to the council chamber to address this and other concerns, particularly regarding the prospects of job creation.

Larne Councillor Drew Niblock attended a public information event hosted by IMSL in Islandmagee recently, and told the Times that the company had failed to answer a number of questions surrounding the project.

The DUP man added: “The event was well attended and a lot of relevant questions were put forward, but many of them were not answered satisfactorily.

“While the company has said the project has the potential to create hundreds of construction jobs, as well as a number of long-term operational posts, there are concerns about how many of these jobs will go to local people.

“There are a number of other issues that people want to see addressed, such as the effect the brine discharge will have on the marine wildlife.

“Mr Larkin has already visited Larne Council to give a presentation on the company’s plans, but I feel it is important that he comes back again to further explain the process of storage cavern formation and other issues.”

Cllr Niblock submitted this motion to the council at the latest public services committee meeting.

Speaking after the meeting, he said many of his fellow members agreed it was “a good idea” to bring Mr Larkin back.

“The council will write to Mr Larkin to give him an outline of some of the questions we plan to ask him when he comes to the council chamber,” he added.

“I do not disagree with the proposal to store natural gas under Larne Lough; in fact I believe it would be hugely beneficial for the whole of Northern Ireland.

“But myself and other councillors have had a lot of residents coming to us with their concerns, and we as a council just want to make sure that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.”

The proposal has already received planning permission from Environment Minister Alex Attwood, but IMSL still require a number of other licences before the project can proceed.