Road race ace Glenn Irwin joins anti-drilling protest in forest where he played
Top Superbike rider Glenn Irwin has pleaded with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to step in and halt the exploratory oil drilling at Woodburn Forest in Carrickfergus.
The young North West 200 star took time out from a busy schedule to join the picket at the entrance to the forest every day since it started last Wednesday.
Glenn says his family live a quarter-of-a-mile up the road and the popular Carrickfergus forest was a big part of his childhood.
"We grew up running about in the forest with bikes and scramblers, raking about," he said.
Yesterday contractors for InfraStrata went on-site and began felling trees in preparation for drilling an exploratory oil well.
"I'm not an eco warrior, definitely not, but I think everybody should be getting involved. This is an English company coming in with one objective, to make money for itself. That oil will have to go back to Scotland as there are no refineries here. There is no benefit locally," he said.
He appealed to Mr Durkan to step in, saying it wasn't too late for him to intervene.
"If everything we believe is wrong with this is looked into, it can be stopped, but it can only be stopped by the people with the power to stop it," he added.
Glenn says his biggest worry is how the waste from the site will be managed in the absence of an approved waste management plan so close to the start of drilling. He is also concerned over the impact on neighbouring Woodburn reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, large areas of Belfast, Larne and Islandmagee.
"We were made aware of it 18 months ago, and, unfortunately like most people, it goes over your head," he said.
"My mum went down to the emergency meeting last week and made us aware of what was going on. So I went down and joined the protest and understood what was going on."
Glenn said he understood that the PSNI was just doing its job on-site, but added: "I would love to know who is briefing them and what is the brief.
"We are protesters doing a peaceful protest and trying to ask questions. Those people came in through an entrance that isn't in their plan and took out three acres of trees - how are they allowed to do that?"
Glenn said the young trees felled yesterday were planted four years ago after a virulent disease devastated swathes of forest in the Carrickfergus area.
"All that time and money for all those trees and four years later, it's gone," he pointed out.
The oil exploration firm said: "InfraStrata has today undertaken some site preparatory works at the location of its proposed Woodburn Forest exploratory well. This involved the felling of some immature, non-native (conifer) trees, planted in 2010, and the trimming back of branches to facilitate safe access in future. The wellsite area covers approximately three acres of the 1,800 acre commercially grown forest."
NI Water said it was aware of public concern over the work and had included a clause in the agreement with InfraStrata that prohibited fracking, both now and in the future.
"The safeguarding of water quality is of primary importance to NI Water, and the company is satisfied that the proposed work will have no detrimental impact upon the impounding reservoir or the public water supply. NIEA and DETI are responsible for monitoring the work of InfraStrata and their impact on the wider environment," a spokesman said.