A controversial oil and gas exploration project at Woodburn Forest has taken a step forward as drilling commenced this week.
The development was announced by InfraStrata, the company behind the scheme, on Monday morning.
“The three acre wellpad site within Woodburn Forest has been constructed and was sealed before the arrival of the drilling rig. The drilling phase will take around six weeks to complete,” a statement from the company read.
Based within a rural site just outside Carrickfergus, the project has attracted much opposition in recent months from anti-drill campaigners.
Protesters fear the operation could impact the water supply to over 1800 streets in the Carrickfergus, Larne, Newtownabbey and north Belfast areas.
However NI Water, which leased the Woodburn site, has maintained there is no threat to the water - a claim backed up by InfraStrata.
Dr Andrew Hindle, CEO of InfraStrata said: “The construction of the wellsite and carrying out the conventional exploratory drilling represent a further investment of approximately £4million, with a benefit to the local economy of an estimated £1 million for use of local businesses to support the operation.
“Following completion of the drilling, the well will be plugged and abandoned and the site will be restored to its former state.”
In the event of encouraging results from the well, any re‐establishment of the site for further works, such as testing, would require further consents and planning approval, he added.
Meanwhile, permission was granted for a judicial review regarding the Woodburn site on May 5.
Mid and East Antrim Council was the subject of the legal challenge, which was brought forward by a local resident. Writing on the company’s website, an InfraStrata spokesperson said: “InfraStrata is a notice party. A date for a hearing has not yet been set.
“The company has no further information on the matter at this stage, although it is aware of ongoing protest regarding the site.
“The local authority and other agencies have been and are addressing complaints from the individual and protesters regarding the company’s operations on the site and the company has provided all possible cooperation in that respect.
“InfraStrata has all of the required statutory approvals and consents to drill the well and will continue to comply with these and ensure that the operations are safe and the environment is protected.”
Mid and East Antrim Council said it was “unable to comment” pending the outcome of the judicial review.