Police in Northern Ireland arrested a man during a protest today against exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus.
Mark Chapman was arrested on suspicion of obstructive sitting. He was released on police bail.
The protest happened as equipment was being delivered to InfraStrata’s exploration site near a reservoir operated by Northern Ireland Water.
Mr Chapman said:
“The stance I took was a small part of a greater campaign. Of course, the important thing is to stop InfraStrata starting their work.
“I was in a position that the only option open to me – because all other avenues had been exhausted by the Stop the Drill campaign – was to effectively prevent the drill rig from moving on to the site.
“I would have preferred not to have done that”.
A spokesperson for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said:
“As drilling equipment was being transported to the site at Woodburn Forest this morning, protesters carried out a ‘slow walk’ protest ahead of the convoy during which a male climbed onto the vehicle and scaled the rig.”
“This action forced the convoy to stop, obstructing the highway and meant police were required to close the road to ensure the safety of the public, protesters and road users. Officers were also concerned for the safety of the male aboard the rig as well as the potential for public order issues to arise.”
Northern Ireland (NI) Water has leased the site near a reservoir that supplies water to homes in Belfast and Carrickfergus. It said it is confident there is no threat to drinking water.
But members of the Stop the Drill campaign are concerned the well could affect supplies. Fiona Joyce, of Stop the Drill Campaign, said:
“This is a protected water catchment. A 50-year lease between NI Water and InfraStrata – our water is not going to be safe. Three reservoirs have now been shut down by NI Water.”
Campaigners were in the forest near Carrickfergus over the weekend when news came through that the rig had arrived at Larne Harbour.
In a separate development, the handling of the operation to drill at Woodburn Forest are now subject to a legal challenge.
On Friday, the High Court in Belfast gave the go ahead for a judicial review by a member of the public against Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
A key part of the case concerns whether InfraStrata should have been granted permitted development rights for the work, which meant it did not need to submit a full planning application.
Campaigners allege the company breached its permitted development rights by changing access from the site and they accuse the council of not taking enforcement action to stop further development.
Stop the Drill said the approval of the judicial review was “a massive victory”. In a statement, the group said:
“We are delighted that the judge ruled in favour of the concerned local resident and granted leave that the judicial review can proceed.”
The group added:
“It is very disappointing that a private citizen has to force the responsible authority Mid and East Antrim Council to make a decision on a project that is so critically time dependent.”
“Throughout this process we have sought the right to participate in the decisions that will have a significant environmental impact. This is a human right and ratified by the Aarhus Convention. Not being allowed to participate in this decision is a violation of that right.”
“We thank the local resident from the bottom of our hearts for his commitment to protecting our community and our water.”
An injunctive relief case will be heard on Thursday 12 May when it is understood InfraStrata will be required to disclose its contracts.