DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT
18 October 2012
£400m gas storage project a major boost to the Northern Ireland economy - Attwood
Environment Minister Alex Attwood today announced planning approval to facilitate a £400 million subsea natural gas storage facility a mile beneath Larne Lough.
The approved development will allow for storage for 500 million cubic metres of natural gas in caverns beneath Larne Lough. Unlike other developed economies Northern Ireland does not have significant energy storage. This bank will provide security of supply of energy in Northern Ireland for around sixty days.
This is important for a number of reasons. The supply of energy comes from some volatile areas in the world. Northern Ireland has no natural gas storage and depends wholly on gas imports to meet its needs. When energy prices significantly rise, this bank can be used to supply cheaper gas and then the bank can buy in cheaper gas later. Also, we will be relying more and more on wind power and when wind is not of sufficient strength the storage facility can provide the necessary energy. What’s more, the Larne area is the only location in Ireland where suitable Permian aged salt exists to store the gas. This also means that Northern Ireland will be able to export gas as well as import.
Alex Attwood said: “This security of supply of energy will be a significant step forward in the way we manage our energy sector. North Sea gas supplies are declining steeply and this facility will make a significant contribution to the security of gas supplies for the whole island of Ireland and indeed for Britain.
“Further, gas storage has the potential to reduce volatility in energy prices – gas can be purchased for storage when prices are low for use or sale when prices are higher. This is important for Northern Ireland’s future economic development.
“This project will see a major economic boost to the area. There is no doubt that constructing storage for 500 million cubic metres of gas a mile below the sea, will create construction and longer term jobs.
“I am very conscious that there are environmental concerns about this. However there has been an exhaustive consultation process and I am satisfied that that this proposal can obtain other relevant consents and proceed in a way that creates jobs and develops the economy whilst protecting the environment.
“We have demonstrated that energy, environmental and economic needs can be reconciled successfully. SeaGen, the birthplace of modern tidal energy sitting in the Narrows in the mouth of Strangford Lough proves this point. This approval can do the same.”
The Minister concluded: “This decision brings to a conclusion a planning process that began in 2010. As with all major applications currently under assessment by my Department, both in Larne and other areas of the North, I intend to clear the backlog and make decisions swiftly, but only after giving careful consideration to the individual merits of each case.”
Energy Minister Arlene Foster has welcomed the decision by the Department of the Environment.
Minister Foster said: “Today’s announcement is an important milestone in the development of an underground gas storage facility below Larne Lough.
“Natural gas is used to fuel two of Northern Ireland’s power stations and also by an increasing number of business and domestic energy consumers. As we currently have no natural gas storage facility this is a strategically important project as it will enhance our security of energy supply.
“All our natural gas is imported from Great Britain and as the UK is now a net importer of natural gas, a gas storage facility in Northern Ireland is of great benefit.
“We are fortunate that East Antrim’s geology means that there are salt formations deep underground which can be converted to caverns to store gas. The development of a gas storage facility will help us to meet our energy supply demands.
Arlene Foster continued: “I also welcome the news that the Utility Regulator has granted a licence for the project. Today’s announcements by both the Department of the Environment and the Utility Regulator will encourage the developers to move to the next stage.
“Infrastructure investment of this nature is very welcome and the project will provide a significant benefit to the local economy by providing jobs related to the construction stages of the project and in the longer term as the facility commences operation.”