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What is the Shannon LNG terminal and why have Cher and Mark Ruffalo called on Leo Varadkar not to back it?

The project has been the focus of environmental campaigners in recent months.

Image: Shutterstock/Azizi Embong

A PROPOSED ENERGY project in Kerry has made headlines again this weekend, after pop icon Cher became the latest celebrity to call on the government not to back it.

The Shannon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal has come under the spotlight in recent months after criticism of the project intensified over its proposed use of fracked gas.

Opposition parties, Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, and Extinction Rebellion activists are among those who have demanded that the government should drop its support for the project.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Ireland needs energy security in future, and that the proposed LNG terminal “could be part of the answer to that”. 

But what exactly is being proposed, and why is it so controversial?

What is the Shannon LNG?

Put simply, the Shannon LNG is designed to be a natural gas terminal.

The terminal, which is being proposed by US company New Fortress Energy, would be constructed in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, and would be the first of its kind in Ireland.

LNG terminals work by importing natural gas in a liquefied state at an extremely low temperature – making it easier to transport – and then turning it back into gas for use in a new market.

An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the project in 2008, but that has since expired. However, developers are currently considering lodging a new application.

The gas terminal has also been included for inclusion on a list of EU ‘Projects of Common Interest’, which would allow it to gain access to funding and a fast-track planning process.

If it’s constructed, it’s proposed that the project will form part of an EU gas interconnector scheme from running north-south from Scotland to Malta.

Why the controversy?

Much of the opposition to the Shannon LNG terminal derives from its expected energy source: fracked gas.

Campaigners have raised concerns that the construction of the terminal will mean Ireland will import fracked gas from the US, despite fracking being banned here. 

Fracking itself is a very controversial method of extraction.

It works by drilling down into the earth and using a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release gas trapped inside rock beneath the earth’s surface.

The process is seen as advantageous because it allows companies to access difficult-to-reach resources which could contribute to future energy needs.

However, fracking comes with a high environmental cost.

The process requires huge amounts of water, which must be transported to the fracking site and could be used for more environmentally friendly purposes.

What’s more, critics say that the process releases potentially carcinogenic chemicals during drilling, which can contaminate groundwater around the fracking site.

And environmental campaigners also argue that fracking just continues the process of using fossil fuels which have contributed to climate change, rather than encouraging investment in renewable sources of energy instead.

What is the government saying?

Although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hasn’t given the project formal approval, he has suggested that it could help solve Ireland’s future energy needs.

Last week, he told reporters that Ireland would continue to rely on natural gas in coming decades and that “lights would go out” if the country’s gas supply from the UK was stopped (without specifying why this would happen).

But he did say that the government would assess the project before giving it the go-ahead.

“Before we make any decision on whether there’ll be any sort of government support or contribution to Shannon LNG, we will do a proper and full assessment, looking into both energy security and also the impact on the environment,” he said.

That followed comments by Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, who said the government would not support any grant application for EU funding until the project was properly assessed.

So as it stands, it remains to be seen whether the project will happen. But expect the government to come under more pressure until a decision is made one way or another.

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