Stop the Drill activists given stay as judge delays ruling on bid to evict them from Woodburn forest site
An application to ban protesters from the Woodburn Forest drill site has been adjourned until later this month.
The news came as the Environment Minister said he will issue a belated 'call for evidence' on exploratory drilling rights next week.
This week 10 activists were summoned to the High Court after InfraStrata, the company behind the controversial project, asked that the campaigners be evicted from the access path at Paisley Road or be given an injunction - although a decision will now not be made until next Friday.
While the protesters were not banned, the PSNI yesterday prevented them from accessing the site.
After being warned they would be hit with an injunction if they obstructed InfraStrata workers, the activists moved tents and a gazebo that had been blocking the way.
Michael Lavery, counsel for some of the protesters, said locals feared they would also be prevented from using the path. "There was a heavy-handed police presence this morning," he said.
"This is a dignified protest and there was never any suggestion that access was going to be blocked."
Lord Justice Girvan said the issue was one for the local council.
Campaigners claim chemicals used in the drill could pollute the water table close to Woodburn Reservoir, which supplies hundreds of homes.
NI Water, which leased the site to InfraStrata, insists the project is safe and that the water supply will be protected.
Last night, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said he will make a 'call for evidence' on Monday over permitted development rights for onshore oil and gas exploration. In 2013, the Department of the Environment did not respond to a request for its views on plans for drilling at Woodburn within a 21-day time limit - meaning the oil exploration had automatic permission.
Stop The Drill campaigners had called for a review of the rights system on oil and gas development, saying there needed to be a new overview body as the DoE was incapable of dealing with the issue.
"As a result InfraStrata was granted development rights by default," said spokeswoman Fiona Joyce.
Majella McCarron added: "We keep raising these permits they don't have. It's only because of our intervention that these permits get put in place."
Mr Durkan said: "The existing permitted development rights were designed to deal with onshore oil and gas exploration involving the conventional techniques that were used over two decades ago. The industry has progressed since then.
"The 'Call for Evidence' will provide an opportunity for all interested parties to express their views on key matters that they consider need to be addressed. I am keen to ensure situations such as the confusion in the planning process at Woodburn are avoided. I am urging people to submit their views to help shape the future of permitted development rights for mineral exploration."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the DoE blunder that led to the granting of permission showed the need for an independent environmental protection agency (EPA). "It would be a step forward in ensuring we don't see mistakes repeated," he said.