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Protected habitats and species off Islandmagee in Co Antrim“are under considerable threat” if a gas storage project gets the go ahead, say wildlife and environmental groups.

InfraStrata, which now owns Harland & Wolff, wants to hollow out seven large caverns under Larne Lough for gas storage and pump the waste water and dissolved salt brine into the North Sea at Islandmagee.

But the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force - a coalition of environmental NGOs, including RSPB NI, Ulster Wildlife, National Trust, WWF, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and Friends of the Earth - is united in its objection to the marine licence application.

Ellen MacMahon from the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force said: “We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis.

“The NI Assembly recently declared a climate emergency, and as a result we recommend caution in the approval of future gas infrastructure projects.

“The Northern Ireland Marine Plan, the Environment and Energy Strategies are all either under consultation or remain to be implemented, therefore a decision on this project must be made in respect of these crucial policies.”

They believe the development will affect harbour purpoises, seals, puffins, guillemots, terns and reefs who need their highly protected environment to remain healthy and clean.

And argue that significant underwater construction and noise disturbance from the project, the discharge of brine waste product and the permanent loss of seafloor habitat “pose a threat”.

Islandmagee’s coastline and surrounding waters have multiple designations as an internationally important conservation area, notably the North Channel Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the proposed East Coast Special Protection Area (pSPA) and functionally linked to the adjoined Larne Lough SPA, Ramsar and the Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), Portmuck ASSI, the Gobbins ASSI and the Maidens SAC.

Dr Kenneth Bodles, Marine Policy Officer at RSPB NI, added: “We are concerned that the activities proposed by this development pose a threat to this highly protected area.

“We do not think it is acceptable to ignore the needs of nature and grant permission for a project that has not fully considered the impacts of the brine waste product and noise on the foraging ground that the seabirds and other wildlife depend upon.

“The evidence provided by the applicant is not sufficient to rule out impacts on important seabirds such as puffins, Sandwich terns and the last remaining breeding roseate terns in Northern Ireland.”

Rebecca Hunter, Living Seas Manager at Ulster Wildlife said: “The waters around Islandmagee have been protected as they are one of the best areas in the UK for harbour porpoise.

“We are seriously concerned about the potential for this project to cause hearing loss to harbour porpoise and reduce feeding opportunities within the protected area.

“Porpoises need to forage nearly continuously throughout the day and night, therefore, the drilling noise and loss of habitat associated with this project are likely to have severe consequences for local populations.”

InfraStrata, which claims the project is supported by the UK and Irish governments, say it will provide 25% of the UK’s natural gas storage capacity based on 2018 data and bring hundreds of jobs to the area.

John Wood, CEO of InfraStrata, said: “We are now nearing the end of a very successful period of consultation with dozens of people turning out in Islandmagee to support the project.

“We have completed a robust series of surveys and studies, which produced very encouraging results. All of this data was then submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for scrutiny. All the updated reports and data have been very well received. In addition, the science and technology behind the project has been proven over several decades in many locations around the world.

“We look forward to creating hundreds of jobs, both in Islandmagee and Harland & Wolff, and securing the energy supply for Northern Ireland once the Marine Licence has been converted from its draft form to full.”

Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs is currently seeking public views on the gas storage project, before they decide whether to give it the green light.

Their public consultation closes at 5pm ON Friday, February 7. The consultation documents are available online HERE.


Read full article on Northern Ireland


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