30 June 2020
The controversial Shannon LNG terminal faces its second challenge in the High Court today from an environmental group who alleges both Ireland and the EU failed to do the necessary climate assessments before putting it forward as a Project of Common Interest (PCI).
In their second challenge to the project, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) allege both the state and the regional bloc did not carry out the required independent sustainability/climate and cost-benefit analysis of the terminal before submitting it for the fourth PCI list, as is required under EU law.
The organisation was given leave by Justice Dennis McDonald to challenge the decision made by the State and European Commission in February, and the case will be heard virtually over the coming four days.
A breach of “natural and constitutional rights”
At a meeting of the European Parliament’s Energy Committee (ITRE) last October, the Deputy Director of the Commission’s energy department admitted that the required climate and sustainability review of the proposed projects was not carried out for any project nominated for the four PCI lists to date.
If on such a list, a project is granted access to a streamlined planning and permitting process. List-approved projects are also eligible for access to a multi-billion euro funding pot, despite the EU’s commitment to the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies.
Without doing the necessary assessments and consultations, the decision to put Shannon LNG forward for inclusion on the list was a breach of, “citizens’ natural and constitutional rights”, according to Tony Lowes, a director of FIE.
Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe also expressed his concern last year at the revelation, and said that the absence of climate and environment assessments was “utterly unacceptable”.
“It’s hard to see how the Shannon LNG terminal even qualifies as a so-called ‘project of common interest’ – it does not connect with the rest of Europe [and] it has not been assessed for the impacts on our climate targets,” Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth Ireland said in response to the terminal’s PCI inclusion in November.
According to the Commission, listed projects must have a significant impact on energy markets and market integration in at least two EU countries, in accordance with the Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E) Regulations.
First challenge to the terminal
The challenge comes just a month after the European Court of Justice issued its Advocate General’s Opinion on the first challenge to the extension of the terminal’s planning permission, advising that the Irish State had failed to remove “all reasonable scientific doubt as to the effects of the proposed works on the site concerned”.
The State, according to the Advocate General, was required to now “close any gaps” before extending the permission and a judgment is expected later this year.
The Shannon LNG terminal had been on hiatus for the past decade since planning permission was first granted in March 2008. A five-year extension was granted in 2018 to allow for a reasonable time period for project completion, according to An Bord Pleanála.
Critics of the terminal have long argued that the then-government was well aware that the site would use imported US gas acquired through fracking, a practice that is currently banned in Ireland due to environmental and health concerns.
Fracking involves the injection of sand, pressurised water and various chemicals into shale rock in order to force gas out. Numerous studies have linked fracking to health issues, earth tremors and large carbon and methane emissions.
Gas has been referred to by the previous government as a transition fuel, however a 2019 report referred to its production and use as a “bridge to climate disaster”.
Methane leakage occurs throughout the fuel’s supply chain, and it is estimated that its warming effect is 84 to 87 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.
The newly formed government of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party have pledged to withdraw the terminal from the PCI list in 2021, stating in the Programme for Government that the development of such terminals does not “make sense” as the country “moves towards carbon neutrality”.