Concerns over ‘leak’ potential at Woodburn forest site

Dawn Patterson (far left) and Aisling Cowan speaking at a public information meeting regarding the Woodburn well plans (file photo).
Dawn Patterson (far left) and Aisling Cowan speaking at a public information meeting regarding the Woodburn well plans (file photo).

Some 350 people have contacted Stormont departments over the proposed oil and gas exploration well near Woodburn forest.

The figure was revealed by lobby group No Fracking Northern Ireland, who released a campaign letter in December over the controversial project.

Among the concerns raised was the potential for leaking of contaminants at the site, which is in close proximity to Woodburn reservoir and a drinking water catchment area.

Petroleum exploration and gas storage firm InfraStrata outlined plans last year to construct a borehole at the rural site, two miles north west of Carrickfergus.

The company, which was awarded a petroleum exploration licence by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2011, held a series of public information days on the plans at the Clarion Hotel in November.

Speaking to the Times on Monday, Dawn Patterson from No Fracking Northern Ireland said: “We know of about 350 people who have contacted the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department of the Environment, and Department for Agriculture and Rural Development since InfraStrata’s information days.”

During the information sessions, the InfraStrata team indicated that the above ground section of the site will be ‘zero discharge’, with a watertight membrane, and a series of ditches and bunds.

However, opponents of the plan have questioned whether these measures have been tested against exceptional circumstances.

“We have written to DARD about this issue and asked for assurances as to how the site can be guaranteed to be 100 percent leak-proof,” added Dawn. “We don’t see how InfraStrata can guarantee there won’t be any overspill of contaminants without, for example, testing it against the maximum recorded rainfall for that area.”

Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the lobby group drew attention to the ‘permitted development’ status of the proposals, which relates to relatively minor or non-contentious projects that do not require planning permission.

The statement claimed: “Many people now contest that exploring for oil/gas does not fall into the category of minor non-contentious development and this view is supported by the fact that Northern Ireland planning law is not in line with the situation in the rest of the UK, where this project would require full planning permission and as such a complete Environmental Impact Assessment.”