Contentious plans to store natural gas deep below Larne Lough have taken a crucial step forward, following a successful test drilling operation.
Oil and gas exploration company InfraStrata intends to create seven huge underground caverns to store 500 million cubic metres of natural gas, enough to satisfy Northern Ireland’s demand for 60 days.
A test well drilled at Ballylumford Road earlier this year allowed the company to obtain samples from 250 million year old salt deposits a mile underground.
Laboratory tests on the core samples have now been completed and confirm the viability of the project.
The firm revealed that the properties of the salt are in line with data at other locations across northern Europe where caverns for gas storage have been constructed and are in operation.
This outcome marks a major milestone for the project, and means InfraStrata can now begin the process of attracting investors to take the £274m scheme through to detailed design and on to full construction.
The proposals suffered a major set back last year when its main investor, BP Gas Marketing Ltd decided to withdraw from the project.
However, the scheme has been given a substantial boost after it was recognised as an EU Project of Common Interest (PCI).
The planned Islandmagee facility is the only gas storage project in northwest Europe to be awarded PCI status, which means it will also benefit from accelerated permitting procedures and improved regulatory conditions.
Andrew Hindle, chief executive of InfraStrata said: “We are very pleased with the outcome of the 2015 programme of works, which will enable InfraStrata to move forward with the monetisation phase.
“This process should be helped by the confirmation that Islandmagee gas storage has been reconfirmed as a PCI, which not only underlines its strategic importance as a key energy infrastructure project at a European level, but also provides the potential to access further grant funding through CEF to assist with its development.”
The gas storage project is being managed by Islandmagee Storage Limited (IMSL), a joint venture between InfraStrata, which holds 65 per cent, and Moyle Energy Investments, which owns the remaining 35 per cent.
The project has attracted hundreds of objections, with environmentalists fearing the firm’s intention to pump brine out to sea from the excavated caverns will harm marine and bird life in the area.