Development of the Northern Ireland Gas Industry
Natural gas was first introduced to Northern Ireland via the Scotland to Northern Ireland gas pipeline in 1996. Initially, natural gas was made available to customers in Greater Belfast, the immediate surrounding area and Larne where the gas distribution network has been developed by Phoenix Natural Gas. By the end of March 2021, 232,9201 customers had been connected to natural gas in this licensed area.
firmus energy obtained a licence from the Utility Regulator in March 2005 to develop the natural gas market outside Greater Belfast, in the "10 Towns" licence area, along the routes of the North-West gas transmission pipeline (completed November 2004) and the South-North gas transmission pipeline (completed October 2006). This work has involved rolling out the gas distribution network to towns and cities in the North-West, and to Ballymena, Antrim, Banbridge, Craigavon, Portadown Armagh and Newry areas. By the end of March 2021 firmus had connected 56,030 customers in the "10 Towns" licence area, and taken natural gas to some 20 additional urban areas, including Tandragee, Warrenpoint, Bushmills and Moy.
Gas to the West
In February 2015, the Utility Regulator awarded exclusive gas conveyance licenses to West Transmission Ltd (part of the Mutual Energy group) and SGN Natural Gas to provide new gas infrastructure to connect 8 further towns in the west. The major infrastructure within this £250 million project was completed in 2019 and has brought natural gas to Dungannon, Coalisland, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Omagh, Enniskillen, Derrylin and Strabane. The new gas networks in the West are expected to serve some 40,000 businesses and households, with around 1,560 consumers connected to date.
Gas to East Down
In December 2015, the Utility Regulator approved an extension to the Phoenix Natural Gas licence to provide new gas infrastructure to 13 towns and villages in East Down, including Annahilt, Ballygowan, Ballynahinch, Castlewellan, Crossgar, Downpatrick, Dromore, Drumaness, Dundrum, Hillsborough, Newcastle, Saintfield and The Spa. Gas is now available in all thirteen urban areas within the project and, as distribution networks are built out over the coming years, the £60m project is expected to make gas available to circa 28,000 domestic and commercial properties. 2020 also saw the construction of new gas infrastructure to connect Whitehead completed, with gas now available to around 1,600 properties in the area.
1 These figures have been taken from the Utility Regulator’s Retail Market Monitoring Quarterly Transparency Report, Quarter 1: January – March 2021, published 28 May 2021 2021.
As natural gas is the least polluting fossil fuel, connection to the gas network can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as offering a more efficient choice of fuel to businesses, the public sector and domestic consumers. The gas network also offers potential for the future use of biogas and hydrogen which is under consideration as part of the development of the new energy strategy for Northern Ireland.
There are current proposals to develop an underground storage facility below Larne Lough in East Antrim.
The Department is continuing to work closely with the Utility Regulator and the natural gas industry on gas market arrangements, ensuring that energy policy and legislative requirements are delivered in Northern Ireland.
There is also significant liaison with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London, and contact with the Department of the Environment Climate and Communications in Dublin, in relation to a range of gas market issues, including security of supply.
Natural Gas Licences
Gas licences (conveyance, storage and supply of natural gas) are granted by the Utility Regulator under Article 8 of the Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.
Information on the procedures governing applications for the granting of natural gas licences can be accessed at the Utility Regulator website at Gas Licences.
The procedures governing the grant by the Department of necessary (or compulsory) wayleaves for the installation or retention of gas pipelines are contained in paragraphs 10-12 of Schedule 3 to the Gas (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.
For information about how the Department processes any personal data in connection with gas necessary wayleave applications and gas tree cutting applications, see our privacy notice: