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Contentious drilling operation at forest called off after no evidence of oil found on site

By Linda Stewart

Energy firm InfraStrata's controversial oil exploration drill site at Woodburn Forest is to be plugged and abandoned after no oil or gas was found there.

The exploration company said it will now be evaluating the data gathered in the 2,000m-deep well and deciding where to focus future exploration in the basin.

The controversial borehole attracted a vigorous campaign by anti-drill protesters and local people who have questioned the decision to carry out oil exploration close to a reservoir that supplies drinking water to thousands of homes.

Their 24-hour vigil at the forest near Carrickfergus was supported by Marvel Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo and human rights activist Bianca Jagger.

The campaign prompted then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan to launch a consultation on the use of permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration. InfraStrata did not have to seek planning permission for the drill after the DoE failed to give its views on the project in time, meaning permission was granted by default.

Last night InfraStrata announced that drilling had been completed at Woodburn Forest. The well had been drilled to 2,000 metres, encountering two conventional sandstone reservoir intervals, the Triassic Sherwood and the Lower Permian Sandstones. Both targets were described as "water wet".

Andrew Hindle, CEO of InfraStrata said: "Following the divestment of exploration assets late last year, this remained our only exploration project with costs fully carried through the well.

"Completing activities associated with the well will complete the work programme obligations on Licence PL1/10. The licence recently entered its second five-year term.

"It is naturally disappointing not to have encountered a hydrocarbon accumulation and the joint venture will now fully evaluate the data collected in the well and decide where to focus its future exploration activity in the basin.

"InfraStrata and its project partners would like to thank all those involved in the operations for their hard work and dedication. We will now work with our local contractors to professionally restore the site."

Campaigners Stop The Drill say Northern Ireland Water has told them the wellsite will be restored to its original condition by August 7.

Spokeswoman Majella McCarron warned that InfraStrata "haven't gone away" and the authorities responsible for the borehole will have questions to answer. InfraStrata holds the licence for exploration on the site until 2019, she added.

"Their shares are plummeting. They still have the licence for the Larne Lough/Lough Neagh basin - it's half the area it used to be, but they still have it. They haven't gone away," she said. "There are a lot of questions now that we will be demanding answers to from NI Water, NIEA, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council and the PSNI because of the way they have handled this project."

She said Stop The Drill, NI Water and InfraStrata have all been asked to attend Belfast City Council's City Growth and Regeneration Committee later this month. "It's not over because the drill is over - it's still going to be going to the committee and we intend to keep that date.

"We have achieved a lot because now the Minister for Infrastructure is going to have a consultation on permitted development rights for oil and gas drilling. It was our campaign that actually achieved that," she added.

Friends of the Earth Director James Orr, who was arrested at the protest last week, said it was fantastic news for the local community, water supply, the climate and public wellbeing.

"The community has endured so much for nothing. We feel vindicated that this harmful, worthless and ill-conceived project is now over," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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