Northern Ireland news

Judge says protesters face ban from oil drill site if workmen blocked

Protesters have been told to allow access to the oil drill site at Woodburn Forest or risk being taken to court. Picture by Arthur Allison

Protesters face being banned from the exploratory oil well site at Woodburn Forest if they block work getting underway, a judge has warned.

The company behind the project is seeking an injunction to stop alleged trespassing and obstruction.

With contractors due on site this morning, lawyers for InfraStrata claimed any disruption will have financial consequences for a project costing £8,000 a day.

But Lord Justice Girvan adjourned the legal action until after the workmen have moved in.

He told a lawyer for the firm: "If access has been obstructed your argument for an injunction becomes unanswerable."

Proceedings were issued against 10 people named on legal papers after a notice was issued for protesters to vacate the site on Tuesday.

In the High Court yesterday barrister John Maxwell, for InfraStrata, said a protest camp has been in operation since last month.

He claimed groups of up to 25 people gathered during earlier stages in the project and at one stage cars were used to block off the entrance.

Mr Maxwell argued that his client has a right of way on private land and was only taking the minimal step of an injunction at this stage.

But he added: "If we are forced we will sue for damages and we will use the criminal law."

Michael Lavery, representing some of the 10 defendants, predicted there could be a legal challenge to the lawfulness of the licensing process.

Denying that his clients had either trespassed or caused obstruction, he insisted: "They are not some lunatic fringe, they are responsible people."

Mr Lavery argued that campers, hikers and other members of the public all have a right to access the forest park.

And he claimed that it was a world-first attempt to drill in a water catchment area.

"There's not only local concern, this has attracted international concern," he told the court.

"There are grave, grave reservations about what is going on here."

According to the barrister questions remain over permission to divert drainage.

He added: "There's concern the drinking water will be polluted.

"This reservoir supplies drinking water to more than 130,000 people."

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