Local councillors are to request a meeting with NI Water officials to discuss concerns that exploratory drilling near Woodburn reservoirs could contaminate the drinking water supply to areas of Newtownabbey.
InfraStrata, an independent petroleum exploration and gas storage company, is set to start drilling 400m from the North Woodburn Reservoir - a move being opposed by environmental campaigners, who are also to be invited to address the council.
Although the reservoir is in the Mid and East Antrim Council area, it supplies water to large areas of Newtownabbey and Belfast.
With protests continuing at the Woodburn Forest site near Carrickfergus, the issue was raised at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s monthly meeting on Monday night.
Despite NI Water insisting that the drilling will have “no detrimental impact upon the public water supply”, Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman put forward a motion asking the council to call for “an urgent review” of the decision to permit the exploratory drilling, with a view to “reversing that permission”.
He also called on the council to “express concern that InfraStrata have been granted permission to conduct exploratory petroleum drilling at this location using harmful chemicals” - a claim disputed by the company, which insists it will be using “standard industry products”.
His motion attracted criticism from several councillors, with Cllr Phillip Brett proposing an amendment that the council “notes Woodburn Reservoir supplies water to parts of Newtownabbey and invites representatives from Northern Ireland Water and the opposition group to the relevant council committee to make a presentation on the current situation.”
Ald Mark Cosgrove seconded the amendment, saying that while it was important that the motion was brought forward, more information should be made available to the council before they could make an informed decision.
A recorded vote was taken on the amendment, with the majority of the chamber voting in favour.
Speaking to the Times after the meeting, Cllr Brett said: “This issue has dominated the local press in recent days and it’s important elected representatives are fully informed of the situation. A date which suits both the objectors and NI Water will be agreed for the presentation.”
Cllr Goodman added: “While it is important that the other members get more information on the subject, I feel that the issue has been in the public view for a considerable period of time. It is unfortunate that other members of the council haven’t informed themselves enough on people’s concerns.
“Ratepayers within the borough expect us to be firm and take decisive action on the issue, expressing all of the concerns.”
NI Water and InfraStrata have both insisted that the public water supply will not be affected by the drilling - a claim disputed by the ‘Stop the Drill’ campaigners.
“Although the wellsite is less than 400 metres from North Woodburn Reservoir it is not within the catchment area of this reservoir,” an InfraStrata spokesperson insisted.
A spokesperson for NI Water added: “The safeguarding of water quality is of primary importance to NI Water and the company is satisfied that the proposed work will have no detrimental impact upon the impounding reservoir or the public water supply. NIEA and DETI are responsible for monitoring the work of InfraStrata and their impact on the wider environment.”