Environmental campaigners urged to clean up protest camp

John Monaghan
28 June, 2016 01:00

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners who opposed an oil drilling operation in Co Antrim have been urged to clean up their own protest camp.

The sight of tents, sleeping bags, barbecues, chairs and even betting slips at the seemingly deserted camp was attracting the attention of passers-by on Monday at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus.

It is understood a 24-hour presence is no longer being maintained by protesters since a decision by InfraStrata to abandon its plans earlier this month after failing to find oil.

However, the campaigners have vowed that the protest camp will remain until the company finishes the withdrawal process.

A series of events have been held to celebrate InfraStrata's decision to cease drilling, with barbecue material left on the site and what appears to be a makeshift bar area exposed to the elements.

One resident on Monday was seen removing signs erected by objectors down the road from the protest hub.

A campaigner said: "People will be back and forth. There is no reason to be sitting about but the camp will be there until InfraStrata is out of it completely. The site will be left in a pristine condition when we leave."

The firm has pledged to "professionally restore" the Woodburn site, but campaigners remain concerned about potential contamination of the water supply resulting from the exploratory work.

They have insisted they will be seeking access to inspect the site once InfraStrata has left.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it would be left with responsibility for clearing any litter or rubbish in the event the land was not fully cleared.

UUP Carrick councillor John Stewart said: "I look forward to the whole area being put back to normal as quickly as possible, back to the way it was before the drill."

It is expected that InfraStrata will take a further four to six weeks to totally withdraw from the site, with delays by holidays over the July 12 period.

While most of the firm's drilling equipment has now been removed, extensive security fencing and CCTV systems remain.

Several Northern Ireland Water vehicles were also seen in the area on Monday.

It has previously said it had "no concerns" about drinking water.

The protest camp at Woodburn Forest will remain until InfraStrata withdraws, campaigners have claimed

However, the Stop the Drill campaign group has claimed there are still questions for NI Water, the NI Environment Agency, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and the PSNI to answer.

In March, The Irish News reported that the Department of the Environment ignored a request for its views on the project - meaning that permission was granted by default.

The fall-out led the new infrastructure minister, Sinn Féin's Chris Hazzard, to propose a change in the law to require any exploration company to seek full planning permission for test drilling in future.

Several people have appeared in court charged in connection with protests at the site, and the overtime policing bill was running at more than £200,000 when InfraStrata's departure was announced.

28 June, 2016 01:00 News