Lignite in Ballymoney
Background to the issue
Lignite is a soft brown fuel with characteristics that put it somewhere between coal and peat. It contains more moisture than coal but, when dried, it crumbles easily. It is found in the United States, Canada, Greece and Germany where it is generally used as a fuel for generating electricity. ln Greece, for example, 50% of the electricity comes from lignite power plants. In Germany the lignite is mainly concentrated in the Cologne area where there are believed to be 55 billion tonnes. These deposits are being exploited and generate 25% of all of Germany's electricity.
There are three main areas where lignite is known to exist in Northern Ireland. In Crumlin, to the east of Lough Neagh, there are known deposits but these adjoin Lough Neagh. The lough is protected as an ASSI (Area of Special Scientific Interest) and a RAMSAR site (protected because of the bird species that depend upon it). It is also the source of much of Belfast's water supply. To the west of Lough Neagh are known to be deposits around Ardboe but these too run up to (and probably underneath) Lough Neagh. In addition they have not been fully explored and in 1986, when lignite extraction was first proposed, there was very significant local opposition to any development there. This leaves the deposits to the north and east of Ballymoney, a small market town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland with a population of 25,900 in 1999.
1984 and 1986, 16 drill holes were sunk by an Australian company to estimate
the quality and extent of the lignite deposit in Ballymoney. In 2002 an
application was made for planning permission for a mine and a power station
on the same site. The land potentially affected extends nearly 8 kilometres
from the bypass around the town - the area shown in the photograph on
this page. It is proposed that the lignite is extracted in an open-cast
mining operation which would remove the overburden (the boulderclay which
lies on top of the lignite deposits) and the extract the lignite which
would be burned in a power station build specifically for that purpose
on the site of the mine. This electricity would be used within the island
of Ireland and in Scotland.