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£250m scheme to salt away gas for our energy needs

In ancient salt beds deep beneath Larne Lough, something is about to stir. And it could have major implications for Northern Ireland’s future energy security.

Energy company Islandmagee Gas Storage Limited (IMSL) has just submitted a planning application for a £250m gas storage scheme off the Co Antrim coast, delving deep into the Permian salt bed to carve out massive caverns where natural gas could be stored — cutting our reliance on imported energy supplies.

The plan is to create a 500 million cubic metre natural gas storage facility — enough to satisfy Northern Ireland’s peak demand for 60 days. The gas would be stored in salt beds 1,500 metres below sea level close to the power station at Ballylumford on the Islandmagee peninsula.

IMSL says the method of storing natural gas has been used throughout Europe for over 40 years.

The project could potentially create around 200 construction jobs in its seven-year development, with an additional 20-30 longer-term operational posts.

The UK is the world’s third largest consumer of gas after the USA and Russia and with the decline of the North Sea gas fields, imported gas is forecast to meet 80% of UK demand by 2020.

This has raised concerns about security of supply, capability to meet peak demand and future gas prices.

Andrew Hindle, Managing Director of IMSL, said: “The island of Ireland currently has no natural gas storage and relies increasingly on gas imports from outside the UK.

“This proposed development at Islandmagee will make a significant contribution to the security of energy supplies and is designed to supply up to 5% of UK and Ireland daily peak demand.”

Storage of natural gas within salt is restricted to areas where salt sequences are thick enough to form caverns. Larne Lough is the only place on the island of Ireland where a suitable underground salt sequence has been found.

The project is one of a number of gas storage schemes being developed in the east Antrim area. A consortium made up of BGE (Northern Ireland) and Storengy recently completed seismic surveys of the area and is now analysing the data.

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