Environmental campaigners have vowed to continue their fight against plans to drill an exploration well at Woodburn Forest in Carrickfergus.
The ‘Stop the Drill’ group have repeatedly stated their opposition to the project by gas storage and oil exploration firm InfraStrata.
Most recently, the group expressed concern over the potential for water contamination at nearby Woodburn Reservoir, despite assurances from InfraStrata that measures would be taken to prevent run-off from the drill site.
In a statement, Stop the Drill spokesperson Majella McCarron said it was “disturbing news” that the company anticipated a start date for the project in the first half of next year, “following completion of funding arrangements”.
“InfraStrata have a five-year licence which expires on March 4, 2016, yet they are now saying they will be in Woodburn Forest in the first half of 2016,” Ms McCarron said.
“Have InfraStrata made a private arrangement with the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment? Have DETI extended the InfraStrata licence once more without public consultation?”
However, a spokeswoman for DETI strenuously denied that any extension had been granted. “No private arrangement has been made between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and InfraStrata plc. InfraStrata’s Petroleum Licence PL1/10 has not been extended by DETI,” she added.
“Any decision by DETI to grant or refuse an extension to any petroleum licence would be subject to robust scrutiny by the Department acting pursuant to our statutory duties and functions and in accordance with the relevant legislative powers.”
Meanwhile, Stop the Drill has repeatedly pressed Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to revisit the decision to grant permitted development rights to InfraStrata.
The campaign was boosted in September when the group won the backing of Belfast City Council, who passed a motion calling for an urgent review of the decision to drill beside the Woodburn Reservoir and wrote to MEA Council to inform them of their motion.
A recent successful crowdfunder led to the campaign group commissioning a 46-page in-depth, independent report by planning consultants Michael Burroughs Associates.
Fiona Joyce from the Stop the Drill said: “Stop the Drill is calling for the council to publicly state whether they have considered the recommendations of the Burroughs report and outline what they propose to do in response.”
However, MEAC Council declined to comment on the issue at this time.