The approval of the decommissioning of the Kinsale gas field has been put on hold following uncertainty over whether the works will have any impact on habitats protected under EU environmental legislation.
Denis Naughten, Minister of Communications, Climate Change, and the Environment, has sought further detail from PSE Kinsale Energy over its plans to dismantle the infrastructure associated with the planned end of the productive life of the gas fields starting in 2020/2021.
The company, which is now owned by Malaysian energy giant Petronas is seeking approval for the decommissioning of a number of gas fields it has operated in the Celtic Sea since 1978.
The Kinsale Head, Ballycotton, Seven Heads, and South-West Kinsale fields, which are located between 40km and 70km off the Co Cork coast, supplied all of Ireland’s natural gas between 1978 and 1995.
The decommissioning programme will involve the plugging and abandoning of 19 wells as well as the removal of two large steel platforms and associated underwater infrastructure. PSE Kinsale Energy will also decommission its onshore terminal at Inch in east Cork with plans to restore the site for agricultural use.
Mr Naughten said further information was required about certain aspects of the project in order to fully assess and understand the likely significant environmental effects of the project on protected habitats under EU legislation.
He said insufficient material had been provided “to conclude beyond reasonable scientific doubt that the proposed development, individually or in combination with other plans or projects will not have a likely significant effect on European sites”.
Mr Naughten said EU case law had established that environmental impact assessments must contain complete, precise, and definitive findings and cannot leave any gaps.
The Department of Communications, Climate Change, and the Environment has sought further information on the scope and duration of decommissioning works as well as a waste management plan.
In addition, it sought an assessment of the risk of accidents associated with decommissioning the Inch terminal, as well as details of a monitoring programme for the decommissioning programme.
While potential impacts were identified for special areas of conservation at Great Island Channel, the Blackwater River, and Roaringwater Bay and Islands and special protection areas at Cork Harbour and the Old Head of Kinsale, department officials said it was unclear why no further assessments were carried out on 25 other areas covered under EU legislation.
The Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht has expressed concern at the lack of detail on the potential effect of decommissioning works on underwater cultural and archaeological heritage such as shipwrecks.
An Taisce claimed that the decommissioning project will have a significant effect on several Natura 2000 sites and protected species due to the likely disturbance from noise, spillages and leaks.
PSE Kinsale Energy said most of the facilities were close to or beyond their original design lives.
The company said none of the potential alternative uses of the offshore infrastructure such as for hydrocarbon production, offshore carbon dioxide storage and wind energy production had been considered feasible.