Group of people on a beach with banners that say No Gas Caverns

No Gas Caverns legal win: protecting Larne Lough

Together with the No Gas Caverns campaign group, we stopped huge gas storage caves being solution mined under Larne Lough and all the damage that would have wrought in a stunning marine protected area. Read about the Larne Lough case.
  Published:  27 Jun 2024    |      3 minute read

If you could peak beneath the waves where Larne Lough sweeps out to sea from behind Islandmagee in Northern Ireland, you'd see wildlife everywhere. Seals, porpoises and dolphins gliding through the water, with lobsters, crabs and starfish scuttling among the rocky floor and seaweed fronds.  

The area is home to 2 nature reserves, 4 Areas of Special Scientific Interest... and for some time, the threat of 7 enormous underground chambers to store gas, as well as a "dead-zone" created by the poisonous brine extracted to make these caverns, just 450 m from the shore.

But the community said no. No Gas Caverns is a local community group who crowdfunded money to go to court to defend the area's wildlife and stop this planned fossil fuel project. In this video, they share the incredible marine environment they fought to protect, and explain why they had to fight this development themselves. Note: this film was shot before our June 2024 victory in the court of appeal. 

Protecting nature and stopping carbon emissions

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland supported No Gas Caverns. Together, we went to the High Court in Belfast for a judicial review into the decision by the former Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) minister Edwin Poots to approve this fossil fuel development. Our case was turned down, so we launched an appeal.

The caverns excavated 1 mile under the lough would produce a hypersaline solution, poisonous to sea life, and discharge it into a marine protected area near Islandmagee, creating a "dead-zone" where no plants or animals could survive.

There are 11 legally protected Priority Species living within 100m of the discharge point. Campaigners are concerned that the poisonous, salty discharge will extend for several kilometres beyond the recognised "dead-zone" potentially causing harm to the whole precious local environment.

A beach and a rocky headland
Islandmagee in Northern Ireland

The Islandmagee coast is home to many protected species, including harbour porpoises.

The development would have taken about 12 years to be fully operational, and the huge amount of energy it would've used wasn't considered in its approval. At a time of climate emergency, efforts should be focused on moving away from fossil fuels and reaching our net zero targets.

Our successful appeal on Larne Lough

But we went back to court to appeal this decision, alongside No Gas Caverns, and won on both grounds of appeal.

We asked the court to quash the marine licences that effectively gave the developer permission to start hollowing out the seabed. On June 27 2024, the Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland quashed the marine licences. When something is quashed, it means extinguished or effectively made as if it never happened. In essence, the developer has no authority to carry out any further work. The development is stopped in its tracks.

This is a groundbreaking win for climate justice and will have a domino effect on other planned climate wrecking infrastructure. The judgement is of crucial significance to how important environmental decisions will be made in the future in Northern Ireland. It’s put climate change on the agenda as a constitutional consideration. 

We are a group of ordinary people forced to take extraordinary action.

Lisa Dobbie, No Gas Caverns.

This was the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, where the courts were asked to grapple with the implications of climate change and how developments relate to the Northern Ireland Climate Change Act 2022.

Together with No Gas Caverns, we argued that developments that drastically impact the local environment and climate change goals should be subject to the highest degree of decision-making, and that this application should have been referred to Northern Ireland's Executive Committee for cross party approval.

This extraordinary win in court shows the power of our network of local grassroots groups. No Gas Caverns’ campaign is proof that grassroots mobilisation works. Ordinary people standing up can win against the might of fossil fuel giants. 

And this win is not just a win for Northern Ireland. This fossil fuel development was destined to hold 25% of the UK's total gas supply when fully operational. It's just a win for people and planet.