The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has defended the alleged ‘extension’ of a licence to drill an oil and gas exploration well at Woodburn Forest.
The company behind the drill plans, InfraStrata, announced last month that it had secured the funding necessary to commence the contentious project.
This followed a series of “farm-outs” which saw five additional companies acquire a stake in the project.
A five-year licence granted to the firm by DETI in 2011 was due to expire at the beginning to March this year.
While InfraStrata ‘had not attempted to extend the licence’, the Department said it had granted the firm’s request to remove the requirement to drill from the terms of the licence.
The news was last week met with criticism from campaign group Stop the Drill, who suggested the move was an extension to the licence “in all but name”.
In a statement, a spokesperson for DETI indicated that the request to amend the licence was agreed by the Minister due to a number of factors.
These included “work carried out by [InfraStrata] to date to a highly professional standard”.
Consideration was also given to issues “outside the licensees’ control” which led to delays, such as nesting birds at the forest site.
The fact that a site for drilling had been identified and that InfraStrata had obtained all appropriate consents, as well as the firm’s clear continuing commitment to drilling also informed the decision.
Any requests to assign a new interest were also subject to “robust scrutiny”, the statement added: “DETI’s consent to assign will not be granted unless and until DETI is satisfied of the proposed new company’s suitability to partake in the licence and of its capacity to discharge its licence obligations.
“The licensees’ proposals for drilling at Woodburn ostensibly remain the same and are something that have been widely publicised and understood, including by various councils, for some time now.”
Meanwhile, a start date for the project is due to be outlined to Mid and East Antrim’s Planning Committee today (Thursday).