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Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announces consultation on oil drilling rights after Woodburn Forest fiasco

Permission for an oil drill at Woodburn Forest was granted by default after the DoE ignored a request for its views.
John Monaghan

AN MLA has said that the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has "questions to answer" over a departmental blunder which gave an oil company permission to drill in Woodburn Forest by default.

The Irish News reported on Thursday that the Department of the Environment ignored a request for its views when InfraStrata submitted notification in August 2013 of its intention to "carry out an exploratory borehole" at the forest.

In a Freedom of Information response, the department admitted it did not respond within a 21-day time limit.

Sinn Féin East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan said: "By ignoring this request the department effectively granted Infrastrata permission by default. This blunder needs to be explained.

"This issue has caused considerable concern in the local area, particularly around the potential impact any drilling could have on the water table."

Mr McMullan added: "The environment minister has serious questions to answer on why his department did not respond in time and allowed this to proceed."

UKIP Mid and East Antrim councillor Noel Jordan re-iterated his call for an independent geological survey, a request which was rejected at a council meeting on Monday.

He said: "The Environment Minister must be involved and take a robust position on this in the public interest."

Mr Jordan added: "The shocking revelations that there may have been some problems with the public consultation process to date.....is akin to putting the cart before the horse whenever these items in our opinion should have been addressed before any activity on the site was initiated."

On Thursday, a  High Court judge adjourned an application for an injunction sought by InfraStrata to stop alleged trespassing.

The case will be heard again on March 18, after Lord Justice Girvan was told that contractors were able to get onto the site without obstruction yesterday morning.

It has also emerged that in October 2014, a campaigner received a letter discussing the InfraStrata proposals in which the department stated: "The proposal does not constitute a waste management facility.....and as such does not require a waste management plan."

However, by this year the department had done a u-turn, expressing the view that before drilling begins InfraStrata "should first have an approved waste management plan."

A DoE spokesman said: "The department wrote to InfraStrata in July 2014 advising....that a waste management plan was in fact required for the site. InfraStrata submitted this information in March 2015."

He added: "The department is also aware from its records that it mistakenly responded to an FOI request in October 2014 advising the requestor that a waste management plan was not required.

"The department is now aware of this error and will be writing to the original requestor to advise them of the correct position."

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