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Cavern gas storage bid gathers pace

A plan to store gas in underground caverns in Co Antrim has gained momentum after a potential new partner was announced for the scheme.

The anonymous "major energy company" will join Islandmagee Storage - a joint venture between Moyle Energy Investments Ltd and listed company InfraStrata plc - in the £250m project, which would create caverns to store up to 18bn cubic feet of natural gas a mile beneath Larne Lough.

Under the terms of an exclusivity agreement announced by Islandmagee Storage yesterday, the partner would pay £200,000 to buy part of the land needed for the project and fund preparation work.

In return, the energy company would be given the option to buy a stake in the project. Both InfraStrata and Mutual Energy, the parent company of Moyle Energy Investments, were tight-lipped about the identity of the new partner yesterday. Despite making an investment announcement last year, US company eCORP International has withdrawn from the scheme.

The facility, if completed, would make a significant contribution to the security of gas supplies, according to a spokesman for Islandmagee Storage. InfraStrata is an independent gas storage and petroleum exploration company in Northern Ireland.

The potential partner has been given until the end of next January to finalise terms with InfraStrata and Moyle.

Northern Ireland's main gas companies, Phoenix and Firmus, both said they were not involved in the Islandmagee scheme. However, Firmus parent Bord Gais is investigating the possibility of salt cavity gas storage projects on the other side of the lough.