The High Court of Northern Ireland has today, Thursday 31 August, found against local campaigners No Gas Caverns and Friends of the Earth NI over their legal challenge against a hugely controversial fossil fuel development planned for Larne Lough.
The environmental campaign organisations sought to overturn the decision of former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) minister Edwin Poots to authorise the construction of a massive fossil fuel gas development planned for under the seabed of Larne Lough.
Under the plans, seven underground caverns, each the size of a skyscraper, would be carved out of salt layers under the lough by a method known as solution mining. According to Friends of the Earth, the resulting hypersaline salt and chemical solution created by this excavation process would then be discharged into the sea in a protected marine area near Islandmagee, creating a “dead zone” where no marine life could survive.
Eleven Northern Ireland Priority Species, which are given protection under legislation, are found within 100 meters of the discharge point, including harbour porpoise and skate. The groups warn that the hypersaline nature and chemical composition of this discharge will also extend for several kilometres and will have a significant detrimental effect on the local environment.
The development will take approximately 12 years to become fully operational and the energy required to fill the caverns with gas and keep it at a safe temperature and pressure will make it one of Northern Ireland's largest energy users.
This was the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, where the courts will be asked to grapple with the implications of climate change. The groups argued that developments that stand to impact the local environment and climate change goals so drastically should be subject to the highest degree of decision making, accountability and transparency.
Commenting after the hearing today, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director, James Orr, said:
“This is an incredibly disappointing judgement for our environment and the local community who have fought so tirelessly against this hugely destructive scheme.
“This project will have a devastating impact on the local environment and wildlife, and significantly increase Northern Ireland’s contribution to the climate crisis.
“But the campaign against these gas caverns is far from over. Our lawyers will carefully consider this judgement before deciding our next steps against this reckless development.
“The companies behind this project are on the wrong side of history. In the midst of a climate emergency, we should be seizing the huge economic benefits that come from focussing on energy efficiency and renewable power – not prioritising more costly and polluting fossil fuel schemes.”