Woodburn Forest drill: Site to be inspected by NIEA

Signs erected at the Woodburn Forest site.  INCT 07-728-CON
Signs erected at the Woodburn Forest site. INCT 07-728-CON

NIEA staff are to investigate ‘potential pollution sources’ at the Woodburn Forest drill site following reports of a second oil spill.

Plans are progressing to prepare the rural site for an exploratory borehole despite strong opposition from campaign groups including Stop the Drill.

The project is being taken forward by petroleum exploration and gas storage firm InfraStrata, which confirmed a “minor” oil spillage at the site over Easter.

A second spill was reported to the environment agency over the weekend.

In a statement, a Department of the Environment spokesperson said: “Between 8pm and 10.30pm on Sunday, April 10, NIEA received three similar water pollution reports indicating oil spillage at Woodburn Forest.

“All of the reports alleged that the oil spilled was related to the petroleum drilling facility in the area with two of the reports indicating that the spillage had been observed at approximately 3.30pm.

“NIEA assessed the details of the reports and deployed an inspector to the site first thing on Monday, April 11. The inspector confirmed the presence of some surface oil sheening in the area that would be consistent with the loss of a minor volume of fuel or hydraulic oil.

“No source for the oil spillage was confirmed as there were no vehicles or oil storage facilities in the immediate vicinity of the spillage.

“The drilling company were informed of NIEA’s observations on Monday morning and a ‘pollution prevention’ advisory visit will be conducted by NIEA, scheduled for later this week, to identify if there are any potential pollution sources or risks associated with the current activities on the site.

Should NIEA identify any such pollution risk, then action to address the risk will be requested in line with set procedures.”

Landowners NI Water also carried out an inspection following reports of a spill on Sunday. “Staff noticed a small amount of oil but found no evidence of any contamination of any adjacent water courses, and there are no concerns regarding water quality,” a spokesperson said. “NI Water can assure the public that our absolute priority at all times remains the safety and integrity of the water supply.”

Meanwhile, a public meeting on the ongoing situation at Woodburn is to take place tomorrow (Thursday) at 7pm in the Belfast Loughshore Hotel, Carrick - the latest of a series organised by Stop the Drill.

“Political representatives including MLAs, councillors and MP Sammy Wilson have been asked to attend,” a statement from Stop the Drill read. “InfraStrata and Sara Venning, CEO of NI Water are also asked to attend, [while] the Forestry Service and Rivers Agency are asked to send a representative.”

Chief among campaigners’ concerns is the potential for contamination of drinking water supplies throughout east Antrim and north Belfast.

An earlier Freedom of Information request by the group revealed that water from the North Woodburn reservoir supplies Dorisland Water Works.

The facility feeds water to over 1,800 streets including 705 across Belfast, 532 in Carrick, 576 in Newtownabbey, 59 in Larne, 80 in Whitehead and four in Ballycarry.

However, both InfraStrata and NI Water have maintained that the site will be “zero discharge”, preventing run-off or leaching of liquids into the ground.