Northern Ireland news

Protesters warned to leave Woodburn Forest oil drill site or face arrest

Protesters continued to gather yesterday at Woodburn Forest in opposition to oil drilling plans by InfraStrata. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

PROTESTERS against a controversial oil drilling project last night remained defiant after being warned to leave the site or face legal action.

A legal notice on behalf of InfraStrata, the company behind the project, appeared at Woodburn Forest in Carrickfergus ordering campaigners to leave by 3pm yesterday or face court action.

However, while police were in attendance yesterday, there were no attempts to remove protesters and many maintained their vigil at the site last night.

Fiona Joyce, from the Stop the Drill campaign group, told The Irish News: "We had expected something to happen at 3pm, but nobody has attempted to move us so far.

"We are waiting to see what InfraStrata are going to do."

It followed an ill-tempered meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on Monday night, when a majority of councillors gave their approval to a waste management plan which effectively gives the go-ahead for the drilling.

A total of 22 councillors voted in favour of the plans, with nine against and four abstentions.

UKIP councillor Noel Jordan's call for an independent survey of the Woodburn area before a decision was taken was also rejected.

However, more than 100 protesters filled the public gallery, with some labelling councillors "scumbags" during the meeting at the Braid in Ballymena.

Stop the Drill later said it may take legal action to fight the decision.

Campaigners have also taken issue with a claim by InfraStrata last week that drilling will not take place within the catchment area of a reservoir.

Protesters have raised concerns about the possible effects of drilling on the water supply, which is "a source of drinking water for streets in Carrickfergus, Belfast, Newtownabbey, Larne and Whitehead".

A memo sent by a Department for Regional Development official to then DRD minister Danny Kennedy in 2014 about the project stated that "the company has now confirmed that the proposed drilling site is within the North Woodburn catchment".

Noting that the company had "an excellent record", the memo added: "The reservoir collects water run-off from the catchment land via feeder streams/rivers."

A spokeswoman for InfraStrata said: "The wellsite is not within the catchment of North Woodburn Reservoir.

"It is within the catchment of the North Woodburn River, however the surface water channels running through and alongside the site enter the North Woodburn River downstream of the North Woodburn Reservoir."

Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo has thrown his support behind the Stop the Drill group, calling risks to the water supply "a nightmare" in a letter to environment minister Mark H Durkan.

At Monday's council meeting, one protester, Chris Campbell, arrived wearing green face paint in tribute to 'The Hulk' character played by Ruffalo.

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