Locals battle fracking company drilling near drinking water reservoir

| 11th May 2016
At the protest last Monday 9th May 2016. Photo: Don't Drill Antrim Water via Facebook.
At the protest last Monday 9th May 2016. Photo: Don't Drill Antrim Water via Facebook.
Local people are furiously trying to stop a fracking company from drilling near a drinking water reservoir serving tens of thousands of homes, after Northern Ireland planners failed to block Infrastrata's claim for 'permitted development' rights.
Prior to his arrest for climbing onto the drill Mark Chapman announced: 'I'm upholding environmental law. My understanding is that it is possible to commit a small crime to prevent a larger one.'

Fracking company Infrastrata has begun to move drilling equipment into a Northern Ireland woodland that contains a cascade of three reservoirs providing drinking water to Belfast and nearby Carrickfergus.

Two of the reservoirs served by the Woodburn catchment are Areas of Special Scientific Interest - the NI equivalent of SSSIs elsewhere in the UK.

The Woodburn Forest shale drilling site lies just 380m from the nearest reservoir - and lies on land that belongs to Northern Ireland Water, the Province's monopoly water company. Homes are as close as 200m away.

NI Water recently granted a 50-year oil & gas lease to Infrastrata claiming that the fracking posed 'no danger' to drinking water supplies. It is believed to be the first time ever that a public water company has leased land for fossil fuel extraction in a protected water catchment.

A Freedom of Information request by local anti-fracking group Stop the Drill has revealed that water from the North Woodburn reservoir supplies Dorisland Water Works which then feeds water to over 1,800 streets - meaning many tens of thousands of homes.

'Permitted development' fast track planning

No planning permission has been granted for the development - but the company and the Northern Ireland Department of Environment (NIDE) say it does not need it as the construction of the exploratory well falls under 'permitted development' rights linked to oil and gas exploration.

Planners at the local authority, Mid & East Antrim Council, and at NIDE, could have rescinded any claimed permitted development rights. However they failed to respond within the required 21-day period following notification so the company's permitted development went through on the nod.

The Department could also have forced Infrastrata to submit a full planning application even after the 21-day period expired but chose not to do so in spite of a public consultation in which the development was strongly opposed.

A drilling rig turned up at the site on Monday this week even though the proposal is currently being challenged in the courts via a judicial review by a local resident. Permission for the case to proceed was granted on Friday last week.

Local residents will be back in court tomorrow to seek an injunction against the water firm to compel them to cease and desist from the proposed installation and drilling works.

Local people win international support for campaign

Local resident Mark Chapman was arrested by police for obstruction on Monday as he tried to prevent the equipment moving onto site by climbing onto a drill at Woodburn Forest. He has since been released on police bail.

Prior to his arrest Mr Chapman won the applause of other protestors at the site when he announced: "I'm upholding environmental law. My understanding is that it is possible to commit a small crime to prevent a larger one."

Friends of the Earth campaigners from thirty countries are also visiting the site today in an act of solidarity with local people. Friends of the Earth Europe Director, Magda Stoczkiewicz, commented:

"We couldn't in all conscience sit in Carlingford discussing how to build a fossil-free future while just up the road a fossil fuel company is riding roughshod over community concerns in pursuit of the last drop of oil and gas. Standing in solidarity with the local people of Woodburn, who are fighting to protect their water, their forest and our climate, is simple necessity."

Jagoda Munic, chair of Friends of the Earth International, added: "I'm glad to be able stand shoulder to shoulder with the community in Woodburn. We simply can't afford to open up any new areas to fossil fuel extraction."

In March this year Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, who recently played superhero The Incredible Hulk, wrote to the Northern Ireland Executive over the issue citing "concerning facts" about the case.

Ruffalo is also founder of Water Defense, an environmental campaign group committed to protecting fresh water supplies from pollution by oil and gas development and other industrial activites. 



Facebook: Don't Drill Antrim Water.

Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at The Ecologist.


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