Confusion reigns over the status of Woodburn oil drill project

There was confusion last night over whether oil drilling had begun at the Woodburn Forest site in Carrickfergus. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
John Monaghan

THERE was confusion last night over whether exploratory oil drilling had begun at the controversial Woodburn Forest site in Co Antrim, despite Mid and East Antrim Borough Council yet to issue its decision over complaints at the site.

Shortly before 10am on Monday, InfraStrata, the company behind the project, issued a statement confirming the commencement of drilling at the site, which it said had got underway at the weekend.

It came before an official announcement on the project had been made by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, which was due to reach a final decision on areas of complaint by the start of this week.

No drilling activity was observed on site on Monday.

The council did not respond to a request for comment from The Irish News and it is understood that it may issue a decision on Tuesday.

Last Friday the council agreed to re-examine disputed issues following a High Court action seeking to secure an interim order to stop the exploratory drilling work at the forest near Carrickfergus.

Environmental protesters have set up a camp on the edge of the site with one man arrested last week after he attempted to stop drilling by chaining himself to a crane.

In its statement, InfraStrata said it had "taken a significant step forward with the commencement of drilling" which "will take around six weeks to complete."

"The three-acre wellpad site within Woodburn Forest has been constructed and was sealed before the arrival of the drilling rig.

"InfraStrata and its partners invested £2.4m during 2011 and 2012 in acquiring and analysing seismic data across County Antrim, from the shores of Lough Neagh in the west to Islandmagee in the east."

The spokeswoman added: "Following completion of the drilling, the well will be plugged and abandoned and the site will be restored to its former state. In the event of encouraging results from the well, any re-establishment of the site for further works, such as testing, would require further consents and planning approval."

The CEO of InfraStrata, Andrew Hindle, said that the plans would benefit the local economy by "an estimated £1 million" and added that the company were committed to "completing this project in an environmentally responsible and safe manner and will seek to minimise disruption for local residents at all times."

The Stop the Drill campaign group said: "At 7am Infrastrata announced to their shareholders, but not to the local residents, that they had started drilling their first Petroleum well in Northern Ireland at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus."

"We were on site at 7am hoping to bear witness...but nothing happened. Hours later all was still quiet and the birds continued to sing."

The Irish News revealed on Monday that Paul Duffy, the head of planning at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, contacted InfraStrata for advice on how to answer councillors' concerns.

One of the councillors said he was still waiting for the answers and found Mid and East Antrim's approach "unacceptable."

A spokesman for the council said it had "requested the information from InfraStrata on account of them being the developer of the project."

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