British Gas firm Centrica said today it was considering plans to create the UK's first offshore gas storage facility for more than 25 years.
The proposal, with partners Gaz de France and First Oil, will look at turning the Bains field, in the East Irish Sea, into a seasonal storage facility nearly one fifth the size of Rough, the UK's largest gas storage site.
Investment in gas storage is increasingly important as the UK becomes more reliant on imported gas from locations such as Norway and the Middle East. About 5% of the UK's gas is met from gas stored in the summer months, compared with 18% in France and about 20% in Germany.
Pre-development studies on the Bains proposal will run until early next year, before a final investment decision is made to develop the project. If progressed, the facility could be available to come online for gas production and injection in the winter of 2011/12.
Current estimates suggest the project could cost in the region of £300 million.
Centrica, which operates the Bains field alongside its Morecambe fields, will project manage the development on behalf of its partners, Gaz de France and First Oil. It will own 52% of the facility.
Chief executive Sam Laidlaw said: "We believe Bains has real potential as a new gas storage facility, being close to existing infrastructure and having the right reservoir characteristics.
"As the UK becomes increasingly reliant on imported gas, and flexibility from North Sea fields declines in the coming years, investing in much-needed storage facilities, which will boost this country's security of supply, forms part of Centrica's long term programme of investing in a range of gas, power and renewable projects to supply our British Gas customers."
The gas field is named after John Bains, the geologist who discovered the Morecambe Bay gas fields in the 1970s for the former British Gas company.