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Larne Lough: NI Court of Appeal hears gas caverns legal challenge

news release

*** Photo opportunity: outside High Court in Belfast at 9.45m Tuesday 6 February [1].  

*** A Crowd Justice page has been set up here to help provide vital financial support for the legal challenge 

The Court of Appeal in Belfast will hear a legal challenge today by Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland and No Gas Caverns over plans to construct seven massive, environmentally damaging gas storage caverns underneath Larne Lough. 

The two-day hearing follows a High Court ruling in August last year that the project was lawful. 

Friends of the Earth NI and No Gas Caverns maintain that the former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] minister, Edwin Poots, acted unlawfully in authorising the construction of the massive fossil fuel gas development. 

There are two principal grounds of appeal: 

  • The failure to refer the applications to the Executive Committee [1]. 
  • The taking into account of an irrelevant consideration, namely the community fund [2] to mitigate the impacts of the development. 

Under the plans, seven underground caverns, each the size of a skyscraper, would be carved out of salt layers under the lough by a method known as solution mining. The resulting hypersaline salt and chemical solution created by this excavation process would then be discharged into the sea in a protected marine area near Islandmagee, creating a “dead zone” where no marine life could survive. 

Eleven Northern Ireland Priority Species, which are given protection under legislation, are found within 100 meters of the discharge point, including harbour porpoise and skate. The groups warn that the hypersaline nature and chemical composition of this discharge will also extend for several kilometres and will have a significant detrimental effect on the local environment. The area, near Islandmagee, which is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest, is where key scenes from the Game of Thrones series were filmed. 

James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, said:   

“We are proud to be standing with No Gas Caverns in defending Larne Lough’s precious environment and wildlife from the huge harm this destructive and unnecessary project will cause.

“We also have a legal obligation and a moral duty to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, and this project is not in-line with the imperative to transition away from fossil fuels. Increasing our dependence on carbon intensive energy systems will maintain Northern Ireland’s position as a climate laggard.” 

Lisa Dobbie, of No Gas Caverns, said:   

“We are so grateful to Friends of the Earth for continuing to stand with us, a group of ordinary people forced to take extraordinary action against a government department and former Minister who we believe have acted unlawfully in approving this nature-wrecking major fossil fuel infrastructure. 

“It is incredibly difficult for citizens to access environmental justice in Northern Ireland, but with the actions of a very determined group of residents, an expert legal team and the support of hundreds of people who have donated so generously we continue to fight for nature and our precious environment.” 

ENDS 

Media contacts:  

James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director: 07912 406 501 

Lisa Dobbie, No Gas Caverns: 07712 218 465 

Friends of the Earth press office:  0207 566 1649 or email media@foe.co.uk

Notes to editors 

1. Members of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland and No Gas Caverns will be outside the High Court in Belfast at 9.45am with banners for a photo.  

2. Ground 1 of appeal 

The Ministerial Code requires that matters that are ‘cross-cutting’, ‘significant’ or ‘controversial’ must be referred to the Executive Committee. Additionally, the Northern Ireland Act requires ministers to act in accordance with the Ministerial Code. 

We argue that this gas caverns project is ‘cross-cutting’, ‘significant’ and ‘controversial’ and therefore was required to be referred to the Executive committee. Consequently, we believe that the failure by the Minister for DAERA to refer this project to the Executive Committee and instead approve the project himself was unlawful. 

2. Ground 2 of appeal 

The provision of a community fund has been referred to as a mitigation measure in the EIA determination under the heading ‘social and economic’, but it is entirely unclear what negative social or economic impact this fund is designed to mitigate. Furthermore, the fund is not secured through a condition and there is no mechanism to require the licensee to set up the fund. 

As a result, we say that the community fund is an irrelevant consideration which can be given no weight. We argue that it is clear, however, that the Department took the provision of the community fund into account, as it is referenced as a ‘compensatory measure’ in the EIA determination. Thus, we believe that the decision to grant the Licence was therefore based on an irrelevant consideration and unlawful. 

3. In bringing this legal challenge, the environmental campaigning groups have been proudly supported by RSPB, Ulster Wildlife, Wild Justice, Uplift UK, Law for Change and The PILS project and take this opportunity to thank these organisations for their support to date. Both campaigning groups would like to thank the many members of the general public for their continued support in this legal battle. 

4. The Friends of the Earth and No Gas Caverns legal team consists of: Conor Fegan of Francis Taylor Building Chambers, Maria O’Loan of Tughans Solicitors and its own in-house legal specialists. 

5. DAERA’s notice of Environmental Consent Decision can be found here 

6. No Gas Caverns here 

7. A Friends of the Earth NI and No Gas Caverns press release ahead of the High Court of Northern Ireland hearing on 2 May 2023 – which contains details of the case – here 

8. The Decision of Mr Justice Humphreys sitting in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland can be found here 

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