Construction on Halite's £660 million gas project in Wyre to start early next year

Halite boss Keith Budinger

Work will begin early next year on the £660 million gas storage project which will turn rural Wyre one of the UK’s major powerhouses by the 2020s.

Halite’s controversial scheme for the River Wyre estuary, between Preesall and Fleetwood, will provide gas, through an underground pipeline, to the nation’s gas network via a link at Nateby.

Plans for Halite's pipework construction across rural Wyre

Halite, successor company to Canatxx, won its fight for planning permission to store gas in specially drilled pods in the salt strata under the Wyre estuary in 2015.

Now after preparatory work over the past two years and arranging financing of the project the Kirkham-based company has released details of its timetable, which will see the bulk of the work in Preesall / Stalmine and under the river bed.

Community leaders, who fought Halite and Canatxx for more than a decade, remain nervous about the plans and how they will impact on the district.

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, a long-standing opponent, is encouraging concerned residents to attend a public meeting on Friday, November 10, organised by the No Gas Storage campaign. Ms Smith has also pledged to continue lobbying both the company and the government.

One of the leaders of the No Gas Storage group, Over Wyre resident Claire Rimmer Quaid said: “It is dreadful news that Halite are planning to start work on underground gas storage from January 2018.”

Responding to the concerns Halite boss Keith Budinger said: “Halite has always been committed to listening and responding to the concerns of the local community. We have been in contact with the No Gas Storage campaign and whilst we are unable to attend the meeting on November 10 we will endeavour to respond to questions and concerns raised.”

He added that Claire Rimmer Quaid had accepted an invitation to the next meeting of Halite’s community liaison panel.

The related issues of geology and safety were at the heart of several heated public inquiries into the gas plans which saw several rejections before getting government approval.

Although Halite has permission to drill 19 caverns in the salt strata beneath the Wyre estuary initially only nine will be created. They will come ‘on line’ progressively between 2020 and 2025.

One of several on-going contentious issues is the disposal of the brine created during the construction of thee storage caverns / pods. Halite have permission to create an outfall pipe which would take the super-saturated brine via a pipe into the Irish Sea off Rossall.

But now it has been revealed the company is also considering using brine in the fracking process – an idea which has prompted comment on social media.

Minutes of the recent community liaison meeting, obtained by The Courier before they were put on Halite’s website last week, refer to the brine’s "potential for use in fracking,” and possibly being used to “maintain the shape of the existing caverns."

Halite have also revealed that detailed design work is under way on the pipe which will link the riverside gas storage area via north Stalmine, across Pilling Moss, to the national transition system gas connector at Nateby. Construction is planned to start in 2019.

The company says concerns that the about the depth of the pipe, and worries about its possible exposure during flooding, had been addressed.

Asked about progress with land purchases from Over Wyre farmers and landowners, Mr Budinger said: “Every effort has been made to obtain agreements and avoid the Compulsory Purchase Order process. Negotiations are complete for many of the land transactions but some are still in progress.”

The liaison panel minutes quote Mr Budinger as stating there is a stronger need than ever for the gas store facility because of the recent closure of the UK’s biggest such plant at Rough, off the Yorkshire coast.

The document also reports that Mr Budinger told the meeting Halite had a “duty of care” over the ICI caverns in the area.

Initial construction work will begin between January and April 2018 - including work on the haul road at Preesall. The road will branch off the A 588 south of the junction with Park Lane and Cemetery Lane. It will run parallel to Cemetery Lane and over Back Lane before crossing fields to the company’s security base at Higher Lickow Farm.

Asked when the whole complex would be up and running Halite said: “The current plan is for first gas to be available in December 2020 and the completion of the whole scheme would take approximately 8 years.”

Regarding the finances for the massive infrastructure investment, the company said: “Halite Energy continues to hold confidential discussions with potential investment partners about the project."

Halite is to issue a newsletter giving an update and has promised to keep its website updated. Its next community liaison panel will be held at the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood on November 27 at 7pm.

* The No to Gas Storeage public meeting is at Knott End WMC on Friday, November 10 at 7.30pm.

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