The decision to extend planning permission for a €500 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant beside the Shannon estuary should have not have proceeded without a separate evaluation of its climate change impact, the High Court has been told.
In judicial review proceedings brought by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), it is claimed permission given by An Bord Pleanála to Shannon LNG should not have been renewed because of a subsequent failure to comply with Irish and EU law, and a delay in reaching its decision.
The plant, located between Tarbert and Ballylongford in Co Kerry, was originally granted permission by An Bord Pleanála in 2008, and given a five-year extension last year.
It is FIE’s case that the latest decision issued ignored the State’s obligations under the 2015 Climate Change Act, involved a decision taken after permission had expired, and an inadequate environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted under the EU habitats directive, said James Devlin SC .
The latest proposal includes the development of a larger jetty out into the estuary where LNG tankers would berth the entire estuary is an EU-designated special area of conservation (SAC) and special protection area (SPA) for wild birds – the latter being extended in recent years.
The area is also noted for its large population of bottlenose dolphins, which are protected species.
The court heard that since the 2015 Act, all public bodies must have regard to the National Mitigation Plan and the National Transition Objectives; key Government policies "aimed at transitioning Ireland to a low carbon economy under this legislation".
Mr Devlin told Mr Justice Garrett Simons that ABP had not referred to their obligations under the Climate Act, while it failed to taken into account changes in the assessment process in evaluating impacts on SACs and SPAs.
The court was told that the project was classified by the EU as a “Project of Common Interest” – of strategic importance in the provision of natural gas.
The proposed terminal, due to be operational by 2023, would be capable of receiving the largest LNG tankers in operation, FIE claimed previously, and is designed to import “significant quantities of fossil fuels into the national and European gas grid, locking another generation into fossil fuels.”
When the revised application came directly to ABP, a planning inspector recommended acceptance on the basis he was “satisfied that no environmental impact or appropriate assessment issue arises in the extension of permission”.
Mr Devlin said, however, the 2015 legislation would require a separate climate change assessment; namely an evaluation of how the project fits in with national emission reduction targets – whether it would help reduce carbon, be neutral or hinder achieving those targets.
Circumstances had changed significantly since 2008, with the Kyoto Protocol replaced by the Paris Agreement on climate change, which sought to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees "and go beyond lofty aspirations", he added.
Mr Devlin cited submissions to ABP following public consultation underlining changed circumstances since the original application was submitted in 2007; notably advances in climate science and international climate agreements – and much more demanding carbon reduction targets.
Gas would be imported from countries such as Australia, Malaysia and Nigeria, he said, and then piped into large tanks located on a 100 hectare site, and cooled using sea water to re-gasify the fuel before being fed into the national gas gird some 25km away near Foynes, Co Limerick.
FIE has contended the plant is “designed to import significant quantities of fossil fuels into the national and European gas grid, locking another generation into fossil fuels”.
In addition, there was “a potential for fracked gas to be used”, Mr Devlin said – fracking, which involves extracting shale gas trapped within shale formations in rock using large volumes of pumped water, is banned in Ireland on environmental grounds.
The developers submitted to ABP that their assessment of air quality and climate showed the development was compatible with the Kyoto Protocol and State policy in pursuing “a sustainable energy future”. Moreover, the plant would be part of the EU emissions trading system and therefore not contribute additional carbon dioxide to the global carbon budget. It would not cause significant “fugitive emissions” in the form of methane.
Shannon LNG accepted the jetty area would impact on bottlenose dolphins as they were sensitive to noise emanating from ships but the worst impact would be during construction. The dolphins were used to shipping in the estuary, as there were already 880 shipping movements a year on the river.
There would be acoustic monitoring throughout the initial phase and measures would be put in place to mitigate potential impacts on the species.
The EIA assessment report concluded the terminal would not have any significant impact on bottlenose dolphin populations so long as mitigation measures were implemented fully.
The case continues.