Northern Ireland

Woodburn oil well: Infrastructure minister 'to change planning process'

Protesters claim the drill poses a risk to the water supply to thousands of homes
Image caption Activists opposed to the exploratory well at Woodburn protested at Stormont during the debate

Legislation to ensure exploratory drilling for oil and gas will require full planning permission will be put to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the infrastructure minister has said.

Chris Hazzard outlined his intention during an assembly debate on Monday on a controversial County Antrim oil well.

Activists claim the well at Woodburn, near Carrickfergus, poses a risk to the water supply for thousands of homes.

But utility provider Northern Ireland Water has said it poses no threat.

Overwhelming

A Sinn Féin motion calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that applications similar to the Woodburn project are not approved until assurances are given about any potential negative impacts was passed in the assembly debate.

Environmental activists opposed to the Woodburn well held a protest outside Stormont's Parliament Buildings as the debate went on inside.

The exploratory well was given the go-ahead under what are called permitted development rights, which meant it did not need planning permission.

Image caption Environmentalists are concerned that drilling at Woodburn could affect water supplies for homes

If the company, Infrastrata, wants to commercially exploit the 25 million barrels of oil it believes are at the Woodburn site, it would need to apply for full planning permission.

Mr Hazzard said a call for evidence on permitted development rights brought an "overwhelming response in favour of change to the existing system".

Results

He said he would propose to the executive to remove permitted development rights for oil and gas.

That would mean exploratory drilling would need full planning permission.

Mr Hazzard added that the planning system "should, where possible, facilitate development" but "must not compromise" environmental standards.

Consultation on the legislative change will begin shortly, the Department for Infrastructure said.

Infrastrata started drilling at Woodburn in mid-May and the work is expected to last until the end of June.

The company will then assess the results before deciding what to do next.

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