The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council has said he will not express his personal views on the controversial Woodburn Forest oil well project.
Councillor Billy Ashe was speaking following last week’s meeting by Stop the Drill, held at the Windrose in Carrickfergus.
It was organised to outline public concerns over the planned exploratory borehole.
Chief among these is what campaigners see as the potential for contamination of the local drinking water supply.
During the event, Cllr Ashe faced criticism from attendees, who called for a special meeting of the council to address the issue.
A statement from MEA Council explained that the first citizen attended the meeting “to hear first-hand the concerns of residents”.
“The mayor was in attendance for most of the meeting in order that he could hear residents’ views,” the statement added.
“Members of the public requested that the mayor call a special meeting of council immediately following the meeting. In line with the Planning (Management of Waste from Extractive Industries) Regulations (NI) 2015, InfraStrata has provided a Waste Management Plan to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council prior to InfraStrata’s intended borehole drilling. This plan is currently out to consultation and this process does not close until February 25; council cannot consider the Waste Management Plan before the consultation period closes.”
Under current legislation, the intended drilling by InfraStrata does not require planning permission, the statement continued.
“Council’s role, by considering the Waste Management Plan, is to satisfy itself that any waste generated by InfraStrata as a result of the drilling is disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.
“Some of those present at the public meeting encouraged the mayor to express his personal views on the matter. Mindful of the pending council consideration of InfraStrata’s Waste Management Plan and the need to ensure that he did not prejudice himself, the mayor declined to express his own views. The mayor was then asked to leave the meeting and duly left as requested.”
Cllr Ashe said that he remained “genuinely interested” in local people’s concerns about the project.
“I attended the public meeting so that I could become fully aware of the issues concerning residents of the area and so that I could adequately represent their views in the appropriate forum within the council chamber and within the democratic process, when the time arises,” he said.
“As mayor of the borough, I will ensure that InfraStrata’s Waste Management Plan is considered, without prejudice, through the appropriate council channels at the earliest opportunity following closure of the consultation period relating to the plan.”
Meanwhile, Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo has written to Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, urging him to “protect” the water at the rural site.
The Avengers star is founder of the US-based Water Defense group.