MARINE Conservation NI has listed 13 reasons why it is bitterly opposed to plans that would see vast amounts of highly concentrated brine pumped into the sea near Islandmagee.
While planning permission for a proposed £400m natural gas storage facility at Larne Lough has been approved by Environment Minister Alex Attwood, developers Islandmagee Storage Limited (IMSL) are still awaiting approval for a marine construction licence, abstraction licence and discharge consent.
The discharge consent relates to the pumping of brine – a by-product of the creation of underground storage caverns a mile beneath the lough – into the sea 450m off Port Muck.
It is understood that the rate of the brine discharge will be about one million litres an hour over a four year period.
Marine Conservation NI has submitted a detailed letter of objection to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) regarding the application, and the Larne Times has seen a copy of the three-page document.
One assertion made by the organisation in the letter is that IMSL’s environmental impact study is “highly theoretical” and is based upon “supposition rather than hard empirical facts”.
The group also states that the Maidens Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is within 5km of the operation, and the Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) of Muck Island is even closer. “We believe that this has not been taken seriously into consideration by the applicant,” the letter states.
MCNI also highlighted concerns about the potential impact brine could have on the marine ecosystem in the area.
“There remains serious concerns at the level of destruction which will be caused by the brine density expelled from the pipe.
“The high levels of brine over a protracted period of four years 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.
“It will also impact on the quality of water and the implications for the beach standards at Port Muck and Browns Bay, leaving the area similar to a lunar landscape. Tourism will suffer and less people will visit the area as a result.”
Fears were also expressed that the ongoing leaching process – whereby sea water is used to dissolve the salt layer deep beneath the lough and create underground storage chambers – could impact on potential EU funding grants for other projects in the area, such as the Gobbins cliff path restoration scheme.
In conclusion, MCNI chairman Nigel Hamilton states: “We believe that the application has serious unanswered questions and remains flawed and damaged, and that the environmental impact study introduced by the applicant asks more questions than it answers.
“I have therefore raised serious objections on behalf of my organisation and with members’ approval at the proposed discharge application and stress that, irrespective of the assurances given by the applicant and their environmental consultants, this threatens serious impact on the local environment in Islandmagee and its coastline.”
A spokesperson for IMSL commented: “The Department of the Environment and NIEA are currently running a consultation process in response to applications for marine licences by Islandmagee Storage.
“This process is rightly being managed by government, and IMSL would encourage any interested party to respond directly to NIEA so that they can consider all views as part of their consultation.”