Bord defers decision on planning permission for €650m Shannon LNG plant

Decision pushed back to September due to complexity of project, An Bord Pleanála says

A decision on planning permission on the application to build a €650 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal beside the Shannon estuary has been put back until September 9th.

An Bord Pleanála, which was due to issue its decision on Monday, has confirmed that due to the complexity of the project, it was being deferred. It is considering a revised application submitted last August under strategic infrastructure legislation.

The US-owned New Fortress Energy plans to build an LNG terminal and gas-fired power station at Ballylongford, Co Kerry. Its previous application was quashed by the High Court in 2020. If granted, the facility would use large volumes of imported fracked gas from the US.

The programme for Government is against developing LNG import terminals as Ireland moves towards carbon neutrality – a view repeatedly underlined by Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan. However, the Government has also said that while it does not support plans for an LNG terminal, the project would not be blocked.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil in January the Government was not supporting that project "because we believe the future is in renewable energy and hydrogen, but we are not going to block it either".

“There is a planning process and if the company gets planning permission and can finance its project then it will be able to proceed,” he added.

Under EU law, the Government cannot ban importation of fracked gas, but the renewable energy directive allows for suppliers to be asked for guarantees of origin for fossil fuels – as is the case with renewable energy. This is a mechanism to ensure LNG is not from fracked sources.

The construction of infrastructure for LNG would be banned in Ireland under a proposed law being put forward by Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan in a private members bill.

OPW Minister Patrick O'Donovan and Kerry TD Brendan Griffin were reported to have raised the issue at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party last week, and called for a review of the coalition stance on LNG, especially given uncertainty with Russian gas supplies as a consequence of the Ukrainian conflict.

They pointed out Germany had moved to substitute Russian supplies with larger deliveries of LNG.

Asked about the possibility of changing Ireland’s LNG policy, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “I think we’re in a wartime situation. So we have to be working through all potential scenarios to make sure that we can guarantee energy security and also for the proper functioning of the economy in the short term.”

An open mind was needed, he said, because of pricing issues and sheer exponential growth in energy prices recently, while taking into account the need for Ireland to have energy security.

Analysis published in January by energy consultants Artelys found gas projects, including Shannon LNG in Ireland, were "unnecessary" as existing EU gas infrastructure is "sufficiently capable of meeting a variety of future gas demand scenarios" – even in the event of extreme supply disruption.

The report, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, found the EU risked a potential over-investment of tens of billions in 32 gas projects on its PCI (projects of common interest) list that will cost €29 billion to roll out in full.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times