Following weeks of protest against drilling in Woodburn Forest, Stormont has agreed that all future oil and gas drills will not be approved until certain assurances are met.
This means that exploration licences will not be passed until any potential impacts on water supply, the environment, tourism and the local community are examined.
The motion, which was introduced by Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan, raised concerns that “to hold a petroleum licence one has only to apply for permitted development rights to carry out exploratory works”, meaning no environmental impact assessment or scrutiny from planners, despite potential environmental issues. He also accused former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan of “being asleep at the wheel”, and questioned why “DOE took advice from the drilling company and not from its own report”.
During the discussion, new MLA Eamonn McCann likened what is going on at Woodburn with the situation around Dalradian Gold who want to dig for gold in the Sperrins.
“The problems described made me think of Mobuoy Road, of Dalradian and of Prehen Wood,” he told the Assembly.
“They are all examples of exactly the same thing as is taking place at Woodburn. Gerry Carroll and Steven Agnew were right: ideologically, economically and politically, what we are witnessing is a clash between the interests of business — of profit — on the one hand, and the interests of the people on the other.
“This is about rapacious capitalism despoiling our country and our countryside.”
“I could mention Dalradian and the gold mining, but I will not because I do not have time,” he continued, before hitting out at the planning service for “mulish reluctance even to comply with their own regulations and with the law”.
Speaking during the debate at Stormont, Department of Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard, told MLAs InfraStrata’s “work at Woodburn is being carried out within the existing legislative framework for assessing proposals for mineral exploration referred to as permitted development”.
Cormac McAleer, chairman of campaign group Save Our Sperrins said he hopes gold exploration will also be considered.
He told the Mail: “We welcome the proposal of the Minister to make a change in the law and require that all such exploration projects must seek planning permission in advance and provide evidence that no damage will be done.
“The proposal must be extended to include gold exploration,” he added.
“It is vital that Stormont lays down a marker that our water, air and the protection of people’s health are to be valued and that projects set to destroy our environment will not be permitted.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure said: “The Minister intends to propose a change to the current legislation policy and procedures to remove permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration.
“This will be subject to public consultation and the Minister will reflect on responses to that consultation in due course.”