Anti-drilling protesters avoid site ban

Judge's court wig and hammer or gavel
Judge's court wig and hammer or gavel

Anti-drilling protesters have avoided a High Court ban on going near an exploratory oil well site in Co Antrim.

A judge had warned campaigners he would grant an injunction to the company behind the project at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus if they blocked work getting under way.

But it was confirmed to Lord Justice Girvan today that contractors were able to get onto the site without obstruction.

On that basis he adjourned the case for a week, when a further update on the situation is to be given.

Lawyers for InfraStrata commenced action over alleged trespassing and interference with its work.

Proceedings were issued against ten people named on legal papers after a notice was issued for protestors to vacate the site on Tuesday.

The Stop the Drill campaign group is opposed to a controversial borehole to search for oil and gas in the area, saying it is part of the catchment for a reservoir supplying water to homes in Belfast and Carrick.

They claim chemicals used in the drill process could leach into the water table.

But Northern Ireland Water, which leased the site to InfraStrata, insists the project will not compromise the water supply.

Groundwater will also be protected by measures including the drill shaft being encased in steel and concrete, according to the firm.

Earlier this week Mid and East Antrim Council approved a waste management plan - effectively paving the way for four months of work on the site to begin.

Counsel for InfraStrata said a protest camp has been in operation since last month.

He claimed groups of up to 25 people gathered during earlier, preliminary stages in the project.

At one stage cars were used to block off the entrance to the site, he claimed.

Any further disruption will have financial consequences for a project costing £8,000 a day, the court heard.

It was argued that the company has a right of way on private land and was only taking the minimal step of seeking an injunction at this stage.

A barrister representing some of the ten defendants insisted his clients had neither trespassed nor caused obstruction.

Michael Lavery also stressed the international concern at what he described as a world-first attempt to drill in a water catchment area.

Following confirmation that contractors were able to begin work, Mr Lavery said there had been a heavy police presence and some exchanges with protestors about their rights.

“There’s some concern among local residents about whether they should have access up and down that laneway,” he told the court.

“This was always a dignified, peaceful protest and there was never any suggestion access was going to be blocked or obstructed.”

The case was adjourned until March 18.