The MV Fugro Meridian will spend up to 14 days at sea off the East Antrim coast as it undertakes a seismic survey of the off-shore geology.
The survey is a crucial element of a study into possibilities for the underground storage of energy, including compressed air, carbon dioxide capture and natural gas. It is being carried out by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in co-operation with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) and British Geological Survey (BGS).
Energy storage in underground caverns is an established practice throughout the world.
Welcoming the MV Fugro Meridian to Northern Ireland, the Minister said: “This geological survey is an important piece of research for Northern Ireland and its future energy requirements.
“The results will form an essential part of my Department’s Energy Storage Study which will help plan for the development of safe underground energy storage facilities in Northern Ireland. These in turn will contribute towards the security of energy supply and the reduction of CO2 emissions here.
“This study can also help potential investors make timely decisions that could provide a reliable source of energy supply for power generation, and also contribute towards meeting future commercial and domestic energy needs.”
In advance of the ship’s arrival into Northern Ireland, all issues relating to the surrounding environment and marine life were investigated and considered.
As a result, BGS has contracted a local fishing vessel as a ‘guard’ boat to assist with the completion of the survey and will act as support to the MV Fugro Meridan, ensuring safety for other marine vessels.
Two marine mammal observers are also on board the survey ship to ensure marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals are not harmed as the research is carried out. A Fisheries Liaison Officer has also been put in place, to help minimise any danger of interference between the survey vessel and other marine users, such as local fishermen and recreational boats.
Arlene Foster praised the work that has been commissioned to safeguard the environment and local marine life during the survey.
The Minister said: “Environmental and marine life issues were all considered in advance of the ship setting sail and the survey is being carried out according to the environmental guidelines approved by the government’s advisory body, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. This will minimise the risk of harm to local marine life and will also provide valuable data on protected species in the area.
“My Department wishes to thank the local fishermen and their respective representative bodies for their co-operation, particularly the lobster fishermen who have removed their equipment from the area whilst this important survey is being carried out.”