Energy company to host residents’ ‘surgery’ days

The company behind controversial plans for underground gas storage caverns at Larne Lough has met with elected representatives in a bid to allay fears.

Islandmagee Energy, which has yet to have a marine licence approved for the project, says it is “moving from the planning stage towards construction and final licences”.

Plans for eight gas storage caverns in Permian salt beds under Larne Lough are facing opposition from Islandmagee residents and some politicians. East Antrim UUP MLA John Stewart said: “My conclusion is that this is too risky a project, too near where people live and with too many environmental uncertainties- especially for marine life.”

“There are other locations which are more suitable- not so close to human habitation and less impactful on sea life.”

Speaking after meeting with politicians, John Wood, chief executive officer, Infrastrata, of which Islandmagee Energy is a subsidiary, said: “We wanted to give them a briefing about what has been done to date in recent years. We wanted them to have that knowledge behind them about the safety of the project.”

He said that a draft marine licence has enabled exploratory work to be carried out during the past 18 months with salt samples being taken from Islandmagee and sent to specialists in Germany to analyse potential effects of brine discharge levels which would be pumped out offshore.

He went on to say that he sees “no reason” why a full marine licence should not be granted.

He noted that brine buoys will be placed off the coastline to measure discharge, possibly 50 metres from the outlet, although it was suggested at a meeting with “local stakeholders”, last week that these could be positioned where brine may gather.

Mr. Wood stressed that Infrastrata is “heavily regulated” and any announcement must be authorised by watchdog body NOMAD.

He said he believes that the project will have a “minimal impact” on marine life.

“You do not get to this stage of the project without having gone through the process within strict guidelines over discharge, We have complied with everything within the guidelines.”

In 2014, planning approval for the land based aspects of the project was given despite 447 objections.

Discussing the commercial aspect of the development, Mr. Wood stated that the company has “ample funding” to progress to the next stage.

The overall cost of the project has been estimated to be in the region of £265m.

He continued that enabling work is expected to take place within the next two or three months with some materials being transported by barge.

Islandmagee residents will be invited to share their views with the energy company during a three-day drop-in “surgery” on March 20, 21 and 22 at a venue to be arranged.