European Court of Justice ‘scuttles’ Shannon fracked gas terminal plans

Environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment has welcomed the European Court of Justice decision to “scuttle” plans for a proposed terminal for imported American fracked shale gas.

The European Court of Justice has advised the Irish High Court that the 2018 extension to the 2008 planning permission for the construction of the Shannon Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project must be “considered as a new permit for the purposes of the Habitats Directive and must be subject to a new assessment”.

The proposal is for the construction of a €500 million fracked gas terminal on the south bank of the River Shannon.

The lobby group has welcomed the “far-reaching” court ruling on the proposed Shannon LNG terminal.

The court went on to say that the environmental assessment of extensions of the time limit for projects can “take into account the results of earlier assessments, but will still have to check for changes in the environmental background and whether there have been any relevant changes in scientific knowledge”.

This includes: more up-to-date surveys; changes to the project; and the possible impact of other plans and projects under the Habitats Directive.

The judgement came after a reference to the European Court of Justice by the Irish High Court in March 2019.

References to the court seek clarification of cases before national courts where a question of EU law arises.

The case will now reopen in the Irish national court for it to apply the interpretation.

According to Friends of the Irish Environment, “the judgement is a welcome development of the European Court’s previous jurisprudence and has far-reaching implications for other major projects across Europe which will ensure greater protection for the environment”.

Shannon LNG

Shannon LNG has planning permission to build an LNG import terminal. This proposed terminal has been the cause of controversy for several years.

In March of 2008, An Bord Pleanála approved a gas terminal, more specifically a liquified natural gas re-evaporation terminal, to be constructed.

The approval provided for a ten-year period for the completion of the planned work on the project (‘the construction phase’). There was no deadline for the subsequent operation of the gas terminal (‘the operating phase’).

No work on the project was started within this ten-year period. The delays are attributed to changes to the Irish system of access to the national gas transmission network and, more generally, to the economic situation of 2008.

In 2017, a request for a change in the project conditions to extend the construction phase for a further five years was made. This application was granted by a decision of the planning authority, so that the construction phase now expires on 31 March 2023.

Friends of the Irish Environment challenged the extension of the construction phase by means of a judicial review procedure before the High Court.

The group had argued that the 2018 decsion, giving Shannon LNG a further five years to build the installation was “invalid, because an assessment of the impact on nearby protected sites was defective”.