Another twist in Shannon LNG saga with High Court review set to begin

The High Court is to begin its judicial review of the decision made by An Bord Pleanála last July

The High Court is to begin its judicial review of the decision made by An Bord Pleanála last July

THE latest twist in the long-running proposal to build a liquefied natural gas plant (LNG) at Tarbert/Ballylongford will take place in the High Court next week.

The outcome is likely to be decisive in whether or not the €500m project will go ahead or not.

On Tuesday next, the High Court will begin its judicial review of the decision, made by An Bord Pleanála last July, to extend planning permission for the building of the Shannon LNG plant at the landbank in Tarbert.

The review was granted to the Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE)  last October after they challenged the decision by An Bord Pleanála to extend Shannon LNG’s permission by a further five years. The review is expected to last a number of days.

Planning permission for a terminal at Tarbert to regassify liquid natural gas and transmit it into the national grid was originally granted in 2008. But that permission was due to run out last year and Shannon LNG  applied to An Bord Pleanála for a five-year extension under the Strategic Infrastructure Act 2006.

On January 11, 2018  An Bord Pleanála ruled that any extension of planning permission constituted  “a material alteration to the terms of the development" and ordered a consultation as to whether that change would have “significant effects on the environment”. On February 6, however, the Bord said it had “subsequently revised” its position and was now inviting submissions before it decided whether the extension of planning was a material change or not.

In July, it decided to grant the five-year extension.

In October, the Friends of the Irish Environment sought to quash the Bord Pleanála decision arguing that it failed to take account of the possibility of the significant effects the proposed development would have on local wildlife and flora. They also argued that it failed to take into account the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act.

At the time, environmentalists opposed to the decision also argued that much had changed since the original planning permission was granted in 2008. The Shannon Estuary had been declared an Estuaries Special Protection Area by the EU and  the exact site was now an EU Special Protected Area, they pointed out.

However, in 2016, the project had also  been designated by the EU as a key European Project of Common Interest, as part of a move to  integrate Europe’s energy markets and diversify sources, putting it  in line for funds from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the European Investment Bank.

Then last September, the US company New Fortress Energy came on board as new backers for the project, following the withdrawal of Hess some time before.

Welcoming their announcement, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said: “As a commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government the proposal by New Fortress Energy to progress the Shannon LNG project is very welcome.”

At the time, New Fortress Energy said it hoped to be in production by late 2020. This week, it is seeking to raise €352m or $400m in a stock market flotation in the US. It is likely to be the only company this week braving the market during the US government shutdown.

New Fortress Energy was co-founded by Wes Edens, co-owner of Aston Villa football club and the founder of Fortress Investment, a private equity fund. New Fortress Energy has LNG operations in Miami and Jamaica.