A renovated mill in Co Fermanagh has been turned into a campsite to accommodate anti-fracking protesters at a testing ground for shale gas, organisers said.
Campaigners against an energy company’s plans to drill an exploratory borehole next month have held a vigil near the quarry in Northern Ireland’s far west.
Tamboran Resources has obtained a court injunction to stop demonstrators from getting close to the site where rock samples are to be collected near Belcoo.
The firm intends to assess the potential for fracking in other parts of the county. Police said they have plans in place.
Activists have established what they called the Belcoo Community Protection Camp outside the entrance to the excavation and said they want their opposition to be peaceful.
The dig is protected by metal fences and razor wire and guarded by a private security company.
A spokesman for the Belcoo Frack Free lobby group said: “The population of Fermanagh, from both communities (nationalist and unionist), is highly concerned with the threat posed by this industry and remains implacably opposed to its development.”
Fracking was a major focus for demonstrations against last year’s G8 Lough Erne meeting of world leaders in a beautiful county known for its expansive lakes but now attracting international interest for the shale gas reserves suspected to lie in its rocky ground.
Daily evening protests have ended with musical performances at the gates to the quarry most nights. Organisers have published a code of conduct for participants to try to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful.
Dr Tony Bazley, director of Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd, said: “Tamboran’s intention at this stage is only to verify that the elements necessary for natural gas and its recovery are contained within the shale in Co Fermanagh.
“This is fact-finding, not fracking.
“If Co Fermanagh is home to a significant natural gas resource that could provide Northern Ireland with decades of a local secure energy supply then we believe the people have a right to know.”
Shale gas deposits in Northern Ireland could be worth about £8 billion, according to a report by consulting firm PwC. The reserves have been estimated as equivalent to about 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
It is believed most of the energy is contained in rocks in the north west of Northern Ireland and Fermanagh.
The gas would need to be extracted using the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The Stormont Executive has not taken a decision on whether to allow fracking.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said he will only do so when it has been supported by very strong evidence which indicates that it is safe for public health and the environment.
Police estimate the number of Fermanagh protesters has fluctuated from 300 a week ago to 30 on Saturday.
The Belcoo Frack Free spokesman added: “Our campaign has established and is maintaining a continuous presence at the gates since Tamboran moved onsite last Monday.”