Northern Ireland’s decision to allow for the building of a gas storage facility that could provide a quarter of the UK’s gas storage capacity, is set to be challenged in the High Court in Belfast this week over environmental concerns.
The Islandmagee gas storage project
In 2012, Islandmagee Energy Limited (IMEL) was granted planning permission for a natural gas storage facility at Islandmagee in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. IMEL is a subsidiary of Harland and Wolff, a company involved in the developing and commercialising of innovative infrastructure solutions to provide safe, secure, and reliable energy storage and delivery facilities. Once complete, the Islandmagee storage facility will consist of 7 underground caverns, capable of storing up to a total of 500 million cubic metres of gas. John Wood, chief executive at Harland and Wolff, said that the project will help provide security of supply.
"With the current energy supply crisis, everyone now understands just how important gas storage is to secure supply and protect against extreme volatility in gas and power prices in the UK".
Campaign groups 'No Gas Caverns' and 'Friends of the Earth' jointly launched legal proceedings last year against Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). They are looking to overturn the decision of Edwin Poots (former minister of DAERA) who, in October 2021, granted a marine license to IMEL for the construction of this project.
They claim that the health of the marine environment and its protected habitats and species found off the coast of Islandmagee, would be under considerable threat if the project were to commence. The development would see significant underwater construction and associated noise disturbance as well as the discharge of brine waste product into the sea affecting local species including harbour porpoise and skate.
A judicial review hearing scheduled to last four days started on 2nd May 2023 in which it will be argued that Poots failed to properly consider the environmental implications of the project when granting permission. If these activist groups are successful in their claim, the marine license is likely to be quashed and referred back to the DAERA which could significantly set back or put an end to the Islandmagee project.
Climate litigation continues
This legal action is another example of climate litigation; a type of litigation that has significantly increased over the last decade due to the ever-increasing concerns regarding climate change. Campaigners against this project have spoken not just of the threat to wildlife, but also of the dependency on fossil fuels that this will create at a time when Northern Ireland has a legally binding target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.