LETTER AND RESPONSE EMAILS: NI Water Exploration Agreement with InfraStrata at Woodburn Forest

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To: “waterline@niwater.com” <waterline@niwater.com>
Sent: Friday, 6 May 2016, 10:09:36
Subject: NI Water Exploration Agreement with InfraStrata at Woodburn Forest

I wish to object in the strongest possible terms to the following matters:

• to NI Water having made an agreement with the oil company InfraStrata which allows them to drill an oil well on land owned by NI Water and situated in a designated water catchment supplying drinking water to approximately 131,000 people in Belfast, Larne, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Whitehead and Ballycarry;
• to NI Water having afforded InfraStrata an option to lease the land for up to 50 years for oil and gas production;
• to NI Water permitting InfraStrata to drill multiple wells on the site;
• that NI Water is permitting InfraStrata to “reinject Petroleum, water and any other fluids into the Site and under the Site…”;
• to NI Water being instrumental in turning this much loved forest where children have played for generations, people walk their dogs, picnic, go on nature walks, into an ugly industrial development. InfraStrata have fenced off the access lane from the Paisley Road entrance and are denying people who have lived beside and loved this forest for generations the right of way.

The process of drilling the well, which is highly industrialised, will utilise thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals and a regionally important aquifer will be drilled through. Drilling has not even started but shockingly NIEA have already confirmed two hydrocarbon spills on site in a two week period. NI Water are aware of the pollution incidents which I believe constitute a nuisance which is totally unacceptable in a designated water catchment area. No 24 hour independent onsite monitoring is being carried out by NI Water. This is not acceptable for such a high risk venture.

In making the Agreement NI Water made a totally irrational decision which must be reversed. I draw your attention to InfraStrata’s Project Environmental Report dated 6th August 2014, which clearly highlights the potential risk of Ground Water contamination. Had the appropriate Governmental bodies studied and understood the risks highlighted in the report, it is inconceivable that Permitted Development Rights would have been granted.

I am asking NI Water to terminate the Agreement immediately so Woodburn can be relieved of this terrible neighbour and before serious harm occurs.

In 1899 the Government of the day had the foresight, common sense and intelligence to put in place a clean healthy permaculture at Woodburn to ensure future generations would have safe clean drinking water. I do not believe under this legislation that NI Water can enter an agreement with InfraStrata to carry out oil exploration. Please can you advise why you entered into an agreement that is not lawful under the Belfast Water Act 1899.


I await an official response to my letter.
Yours sincerely

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Sent: Friday, 20 May 2016, 10:06:34
Subject: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest

Dear Ms S…..
CMS Reference: 9090516/43194
 
Re: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest
 
Thank you for your email received on 6 May 2016, regarding the above.
The concerns which you have raised are being looked at in detail by the appropriate department within NI Water. We will contact you again with an update on this matter no later than 6 June 2016.
I apologise for any inconvenience caused as a result of this delay and would like to thank you for your patience.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 MARK LENNON
Customer Service Centre 
 
 Should you need to contact us in the future, our contact details can be found on our website:
‘Tap into Health and drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of water per day. Water is fat free, has no calories and with NI Water supplying high quality drinking water to our taps, keeping your fluid levels topped up couldn’t be easier.’
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Sent: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 15:48:55
Subject: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest
Dear Ms S
CMS Reference: 9090516/43194
Re: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest
 
I refer to my email of 20 May 2016, regarding the above.
 
Whilst fully appreciative of the concerns that have been expressed I would wish to once again stress that NI Water’s priority at all times is the safety of public drinking water and we would not allow any activity to be undertaken which posed a threat to this.  NI Water has introduced an extensive water quality monitoring programme in the area.  These measures were introduced to ensure that the highest levels of water quality are maintained and to provide reassurance to members of the public.
 
I note your reference to ‘right of way’ and whilst some restrictions on access at one point to the forest have been imposed for health and safety reasons I would point out that pre-existing arrangements for public access to the remainder of Woodburn Forest (approximately 99% of the forest) remain in place.
 
You also raise a number of queries in relation to chemicals and discharges as well as Permitted Development and I would suggest that these be directed to the relevant bodies namely the NI Environment Agency and  Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
 
The issue raised in connection with the Belfast Water Act 1899 is being considered by Northern Ireland Water Ltd. I will contact you again with an update no later than 10 June 2016.
 
I apologise for this further delay and would like to thank you for your continued patience.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 MARK LENNON
Customer Service Centre
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Sent: Friday, 10 June 2016, 11:34:06
Subject: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest
Dear Ms Smyth
 
CMS Reference: 9090516/43194
 
Re: Exploratory Drilling at Woodburn Forest
 
Further to our previous response, NI Water can confirm that the land on which the temporary exploratory works are being carried out were acquired by the Belfast Water Commissioners as recorded in a deed poll dated 2 June 1908.  Copies of the relevant statutes which transferred the land to NI Water can be obtained from the Stationery Office.  As your correspondence suggests, there are a variety of further Water Acts subsequent to the Act of 1899 which should be read together with the 1899 Act; but which contain a range of further provisions as to how the Commissioners could deal with lands they had acquired.  Insofar as the provisions of the Water Acts continue to apply, they are not limited to the provisions you have mentioned in your correspondence.
In addition, however, NI Water is also empowered by the Water and Sewage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 to manage and dispose of its land holdings.  NI Water also holds a general authority to dispose of land granted by the Department for Regional Development.
The land in question is not surplus to NI Water’s requirements and retains its protected status. Nor does NI Water consider the lands to be superfluous within the meaning of that term in the Land Clauses Act.  NI Water has taken steps to ensure that it retains control over the activities carried out on lands at Woodburn Forest by InfraStrata, which at present is only exercising a temporary licence to carry out controlled exploratory drilling. NI Water carefully considered the nature of the works proposed and concluded that these were not contrary to the objectives of preventing pollution to the water supply and protecting the waterworks against nuisance and from encroachment or injury.  NI Water does not consider the limited works which InfraStrata is authorised to undertake on a small portion of the relevant lands to constitute a nuisance, encroachment or injury or to be inconsistent with the statutory purposes for which the land continues to be held by NI Water.
In summary, NI Water does not believe that the nature of the licence granted to Infrastrata contravenes any of its statutory duties nor in particular, insofar as they are relevant, does it contravene the provisions of the Belfast Water Act 1899.
As you are aware, no lease has as yet been granted to InfraStrata and InfraStrata’s option is subject to it first having obtained a planning permission for further exploratory drilling, which will provide a further opportunity for any concerns on the part of objectors or residents about its operations to be assessed.
Thank you once more for taking the time to share your concerns
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
 
MARK LENNON
Customer Service Centre