Environmental organisations unite in objection to gas storage project that could significantly impact wildlife and protected habitats

Environmental organisations unite in objection to gas storage project that could significantly impact wildlife and protected habitats

Harbour porpoise (c) Randal Counihan

The health of the marine environment, its protected habitats and species found off Islandmagee in County Antrim are under considerable threat if a marine licence application for a gas storage project is granted by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force - a coalition of environmental NGOs, including Ulster Wildlife, RSPB NI, National Trust and Friends of the Earth – has united in objecting to the granting of a marine licence to applicants Islandmagee Energy Ltd due to the detrimental effects it will have on such a highly protected area. The task force also considers that much of the justification for the project is considerably outdated. 

The development would see significant underwater construction and associated noise disturbance, the discharge of brine waste product and the permanent loss of seafloor habitat – affecting harbour porpoises, seals, puffins, guillemots, terns and reefs. 

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.”

The at-risk 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.”

The Department of the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs is currently seeking public views on the gas storage project. The consultation will close on Friday 7th February. All of the consultation documents are available online.

Read Ulster Wildlife's response to the gas storage project consultation.