InfraStrata begin drilling in Woodburn Forest, Co. Antrim
Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus in County Antrim has become the site of the first operational fracking rig on the island of Ireland. On Monday 16 May InfraStrata PLC began to drill, seeking to confirm a viable oil find which will pave the way for large scale extraction. Community campaigners continue to resist and all support is welcome on the site to stop the drilling while one local mounts a legal challenge.
Fracking has come to the island of Ireland. InfraStrata PLC are targeting the community of Woodburn Forest, Antrim, for oil extraction using the controversial drilling technology being banned across the world.
InfraStrata is a small UK dirty energy company which also holds a licence for underground gas storage facilities at Islandmagee in Antrim.
Local campaigners from the Stop the Drill campaign have been fighting a marathon battle against the company's plans to drill in the forest. The community has had a physical presence in the forest since February, when a protest camp was established.
No planning, no consultation
InfraStrata has been granted permissions to drill through a mechanism known as "Permitted Development Rights" (PDR) which allowed them to by-pass the planning process without any public consultation process. The PDR mechanism is normally used for small scale developments such as minor residential home changes and it is extremely unusual for it to be used for large scale heavy industrial development.
The drilling site has been leased to the company by the public water utility Northern Irish Water, who had previously managed the site as a protected water catchment for over 100 years. The fifty year lease cost the company £1,000.
Woodburn Forest is the location of four water reservoirs which serve the nearby town of Carrickfergus as well as a number of areas of Belfast and communities along the Antrim coast. Three of these reservoirs have been closed as a precautionary measure as drilling gets underway.
There has been a litany of procedural and planning failures by the Northern Irish government and the local authority, Mid and East Antrim Council. The company was granted Permitted Development Rights by default when the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Investment failed act on time to assess the licence.
InfraStrata went on commence works on the site in February without producing a Waste Management Plan for the handling of toxins and dealing with contamination on the sensitive water catchment site. The plan that was subsequently produced, and approved the local authority, contained a number of serious flaws according to a review carried out by Synergy Energy and Environment on behalf of the Stop the Drill campaign
Non-violent direct action
The drill rig arrived through the port of Larne on Monday, and its arrival on-site was delayed by over 6 hours by the non-violent direct action of local community members, including one man in his 60s who locked himself on to the rig when it was stopped by community members who blocked the road.
Up to 100 PSNI officers closed the roads around the forest and refused to allow community members in or out of the site while the dealt with the lock-on. As this blockade progressed, a harp player played in protest for three hours at the police line.
A member of the local community has sought a judicial review of the process in the Belfast High Court. The court has instructed Mid and East Antrim to review the case by Monday, 16 May, when the council must decide if it believes that the company has breached Permitted Development Rights.
The community do not believe that the council will find against the company as this would be admitting error on its own behalf. Instead, campaigners are preparing to challenge the council's decision through the judicial review.
The date for this review will be set by Thursday, 19 May, but it is hoped that it will take place before the end of May.
While the community awaits the judicial review, work on site continues apace and the only thing that can halt fracking is people power on the ground. The community appreciate all support both at the protest camp and online.
The address of the camp is 15 Paisley Road, Carrickfergus, Carrickfergus BT38 9YB, UK.
Visit the Stop the Drill campaign website for full details of the handling of the case by the government, including copies of all available documents and reports: http://www.stopthedrillcampaign.com/.
Caption: "Stop the Drill" by Ursula Burns