How DoE blunder allowed oil-drilling in forest

The Department of the Environment ignored a request for its view on an exploratory oil drill at Woodburn Forest, meaning permission was granted by default. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

THE Department of the Environment ignored a request for its views on a controversial oil drilling project in Co Antrim - meaning that permission was granted by default.

InfraStrata submitted notification in August 2013 of its intention to "carry out an exploratory borehole" at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus.

However, in a Freedom of Information response seen by The Irish News, the department admitted it did not respond within a 21-day time limit.

A DoE briefing paper reveals that the time elapsed "at which point permitted development (PD) rights had been granted by default".

The granting of PD rights has proved controversial as the department is effectively the sole decision-maker.

The paper states: "A PD notification is not treated as an application; it is not advertised, consulted upon or available for viewing on the public portal."

Protesters concerned about the possible impact of drilling on water supplies continued a sit-in at the site yesterday, as a judge warned they face being banned if they block work getting underway.

With contractors due to arrive this morning, InfraStrata - which insists drinking water will not be affected - sought a court injunction to stop alleged trespassing.

Fiona Joyce, from campaign group Stop the Drill, described the department's failure to respond to the PD notification as "really shocking".

"We would have serious concerns that PD rights are being granted without any proper consultation, in particular in this case in what is a major water conservation area," she said.

"Because the department sat on its hands for three weeks and did nothing we have had to take this campaign forward."

A spokeswoman for the DoE did not explain why it missed the deadline, but said it later decided the proposal did not constitute an "Environmental Impact Assessment development".

"If the department had determined that the proposal did constitute EIA development then permitted development rights would have been automatically removed and a full planning application required."

She added: "The department wrote to InfraStrata on December 19 2013 indicating that the proposed borehole was permitted development."

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