A campaign against exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest has been given fresh impetus after winning the backing of a public sector union.
At a conference in Enniskillen yesterday, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) gave its support for Stop the Drill, which opposes the InfraStrata-led oil and gas exploration project.
Attendees unanimously voted in favour of a motion calling for drilling to stop at the rural location, just outside Carrickfergus.
NIPSA’s Paul Dale said: “[The motion] condemned NI Water for leasing the site to InfraStrata, and the Department of the Environment for not ensuring that a full planning application was required.
“It also condemned InfraStrata for their actions to date and for describing the project as being appropriate under Permitted Development, which we would obviously disagree with.
“NIPSA will be supporting the Assembly debate at Stormont on Monday (June 6th) and we will be raising the issue at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“We also condemn InfraStrata taking legal action against campaigners, and we will be looking to support these people.”
Northern Ireland’s largest trade union, NIPSA has over 45,000 members across the province.
Many live and work within the water catchment area covered by the Woodburn reservoirs, including Newtownabbey man, Trevor Gordon.
“Hopefully the trade union’s support will add impetus to the whole campaign,” he said.
Yesterday’s development was welcomed by members of Stop the Drill, who have been maintaining a presence at the site for several weeks.
A treehouse viewing platform was recently constructed in the forest, enabling campaigners to monitor the well pad where InfraStrata commenced exploratory drilling last month.
On Sunday afternoon, two members of the public, Billy Newman and Zena Walker-Reed, carried out a demonstration along the access path to the drill site.
“I’ve lived in Carrick for over 40 years and [Woodburn Forest] is an area I know very well,” said Billy.
“I’ve never protested in my life but my kids and grandkids are going to be the ones that will have to deal with the consequences of what’s happening here. If there’s any health and safety issues it shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”
They also sought clarification from officials on the status of the path as a public right of way.
The overnight protest lasted until noon on Monday, after which both left the site voluntarily.