Belfast Telegraph

Woodburn oil drill protest: Mark Ruffalo's letter to Mark Durkan in full

Dear Minister Durkan, As the founder and chief technology officer of Water Defense, we are writing to you urgently about the exploratory well that your government is currently going to allow 350 metres from the North Woodburn Water Reservoir that is the drinking water source for 131,000 people, including Belfast City centre.

We understand that this is likely to be the only site in the world where a public water company has leased land for unconventional oil and gas. Distinguished Professor Anthony Ingraffea, a renowned expert on this process and technology from the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department at Cornell University, has described a public water company giving away this particular land, which it acquired to protect as a water c atchment, for this dangerous activity as  ‘irrational.’ 

Water Defense carries out water testing and was contacted by your residents to assist them since they feel their concerns about the potential devastation this drilling could cause are not being adequately addressed by your Department, nor indeed the entire Northern Ireland Executive. 

Only 2 percent of the world's freshwater is available for us, yet that available water is beginning to dwindle into what experts say will become a worldwide water crisis. It is critical that we protect our freshwater drinking supplies. 

There are many concerning facts that have been brought to our attention. Chief among those concerns is the fact that the surrounding area was acquired as a protected water catchment area, yet will be subject to unconventional hydrocarbon exploration with directional drilling, 2km deep, and the use of toxic chemicals beside a public reservoir.  

We are aware that the chemical Biocide T will be used during the drilling phase. It is carcinogenic, toxic by inhalation, and may cause harm to unborn children. It is very toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.  Another dangerous chemical to be used at Woodburn is the hazardous Barium Sulphate – 24,000 kg will be injected into this water catchment area, where the geology is untested. 

It is also troubling that your Department, whose responsibility is for the Environment, is not intervening to stop this activity that appears to be unlawful given the fact that a Waste 

Management Plan (The Planning of Management of Waste from Extractive Industries 2015) was required before permitted development was granted and that environmental considerations have not been adequately assessed. It is extraordinary that on this sensitive site there has been no public scrutiny through the planning process and there has been no Environmental Impact Assessment.  

We are aware of the leadership you have shown in relation to hydrocarbon exploration, your ability to intervene at this stage, and your duty to adopt a precautionary approach. There are also clear implications and obligations from the Environmental Liability legislation in relation to your Department.   

At Water Defense, we have traveled the world conducting water tests for some of the toxic chemicals that will be used at the site if drilling is allowed to proceed. We will be working with your residents to ensure the safety of the drinking water, including testing the water to ensure residents are not exposed to unsafe drinking water. 

We are now sending water testing kits to local residents, Friends of Earth Northern Ireland and the Stop the Drill campaign to distribute to residents who could be impacted and we will be closely monitoring the situation. 

In closing, one of the water contamination cases we are currently investigating is that in Flint, Michigan, where thousands of people have been poisoned by lead in the drinking water. The people who are being held accountable are the elected officials who allowed the tragedy to happen. 

We implore you to protect your citizens by protecting their water. The small amount of oil and gas that can be extracted from that site pales in comparison to the nightmare that contaminating the water supply for over 131,000 residents in your community would cause. 


Mark Ruffalo, Founder, Water Defense

Scott Smith Water Defense Chief Technology Officer & Investigator

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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