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Drilling starts at Woodburn forest site despite legal challenge

By Linda Stewart

Published 17/05/2016

Support: human rights activist Mark Ruffalo
Support: human rights activist Mark Ruffalo
Support: human rights activist Bianca Jagger

Drilling for petroleum has started at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus, even though the project is now the subject of a legal challenge.

InfraStrata plc, the lead company in the consortium that is carrying out exploratory drilling, said the drilling phase will take around six weeks to complete.

The controversial project close to a drinking water reservoir that supplies thousands of homes in Belfast and east Antrim has been met with a series of protests, amid anger from local people.

The Stop The Drill protest has been backed by Spotlight actor Mark Ruffalo and human rights activist Bianca Jagger.

Yesterday, InfraStrata announced that the three-acre wellpad at Woodburn Forest had been built and sealed before the arrival of the drilling rig last Monday. One protester chained himself to the top of the rig as it was transported towards the site.

The company says the rig will be used to drill a well to a depth of 2,000m into three conventional sandstone reservoir intervals.

InfraStrata said that prior to identifying the site at Woodburn Forest for an exploration well, the company and its partners invested £2.4m during 2011 and 2012 in acquiring and analysing seismic data across Co Antrim, from the shores of Lough Neagh in the west to Islandmagee in the east.

CEO, Dr Andrew Hindle, said:  "The construction of the wellsite and carrying out the conventional exploratory drilling represent a further investment of approximately £4m, with a benefit to the local economy of an estimated £1m for use of local businesses to support the operation.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wellsite construction team for their valuable work to date and pay tribute to all involved for the dedication they have shown to the project over the last few weeks, during very difficult and challenging circumstances. InfraStrata is committed to completing this project in an environmentally responsible and safe manner and will seek to minimise disruption for local residents at all times."

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, the representative body for UK onshore oil and gas, said: "This well marks an important step in evaluating whether or not Northern Ireland could have its own oil and gas industry.

"In the UK oil and gas heats our homes, gas provides a third of our electricity (more than half in Northern Ireland) and is used as a raw material both for fertiliser to grow food and to manufacture a huge range of everyday products, whilst oil provides feedstock into the manufacture of many of our everyday products like mobile phones and computers. Without home-grown oil and gas, 75% will be imported from other countries by 2030."

InfraStata said that following completion of the drilling, the well will be plugged and abandoned and the site will be restored to its former state.

Last night, Stop The Drill said that at 7am yesterday InfraStrata announced to their shareholders, but not to the local residents, that they had started drilling their first petroleum well in Northern Ireland. "We were on site at 7am hoping to bear witness to the start of this unlawful operation but nothing happened. Six hours later all was still quiet," a spokesperson said.

"Stop The Drill have some very serious questions for NI Water, the landlord of the site which was unlawfully leased to the company. We also have questions for Mid and East Antrim Council following the disclosure that head of planning, Paul Duffy, asked InfraStrata for help in responding to questions from councillors about this project."

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