Will lignite mining rear its head again when temporary ban ends?
The spectre of lignite looms over north Antrim once again with warnings that the temporary ban on mining the fuel in Northern Ireland is due to end soon.
The three-year moratorium on mining lignite comes to an end in October, leaving residents of north Antrim fearful that proposals for open-cast mining could be re-opened.
Councillors have urged vigilance from local people in case the controversial plans to build a vast open cast mine and power station should be revived by Ballymoney Power Limited, which is owned by Australian company Auiron.
All the main political parties united in opposition to the controversial plans when they were mooted in 2002 and the planning application attracted a record 32,297 objections — the largest opposition to any planning application in Northern Ireland. Lignite has a notorious reputation as a “dirty fuel” that has been linked to serious pollution and acid rain in east Germany.
North Antrim Ulster Unionist Association chairman Robin Swann warned that people should not believe the struggle against lignite mining is over and now is the time to keep the pressure on and oppose the unnecessary despoiling of beautiful countryside.
“Public excitement that the lignite mining plan was halted in 2007 could yet prove to be premature,” he said.
The community needs a firm commitment from the company behind the application that it has no intention of progressing the mining project.”
The presence of lignite was first discovered in the early 1980s during test drilling for a water supply in Ballymoney, but did not attract much interest until Auiron Energy announced plans in 1990 to build a 500mW power station to process the 660 million tonne lignite deposit.
Its subsidiary, Ballymoney Power Ltd, made a planning application in the early 2000s to build an open cast lignite mine with mine mouth power station, pit spoil heap and mine facilities, including service buildings, workshop and warehouse, assembly buildings, bathhouse, administration building, heavy vehicle wash bay and security hut.
The announcement was followed by a series of public meetings which attracted thousands of people registering their opposition and the application received 32,297 objections.
Mr Swann warned that the expiring the current moratorium means public opposition must be kept alive.
“When we have the opportunity for offshore wind or tidal renewable power sources, it doesn't make sense to dig up 2,000 acres for an open cast mine,” he said.