The UK’s ‘biggest freshwater lake’ is under threat if drilling around Lough Neagh goes ahead

Oil drill and Lough Neagh
Support us and go ad-free

On 13 October, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion backing a “moratorium on onshore petroleum licensing and drilling”. Environmental campaigners now demand legislation banning all exploration, drilling, and extraction of hydrocarbons in the north of Ireland.

Campaigners have particular concerns about an application to drill at Lough Neagh. EHA Exploration Ltd is applying for a petroleum licence to drill in the south Lough Neagh basin. Environmental campaign group Stop The Drill told The Canary:

We are firmly opposed to all drilling. They can’t put the catchments of Lough Neagh at risk. Water protection and public health is at the core of our campaigns.

Campaign concerns

On its Twitter page Stop The Drill said:

Lough Neagh is the biggest freshwater lake in the UK and 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water is taken from it. We are very concerned by this proposal. The area under consideration ‘is within the drinking water catchment areas for a number of @niwnews Water Treatment Works (WTWs) and drinking water abstraction points within the Lough Neagh system.

It also told The Canary:

We share the concerns of NI Water who have noted in their consultation response to PLA1/16 that the area under consideration ‘is within the drinking water catchment areas for a number of NI Water’s Water Treatment Works (WTWs) and drinking water abstraction points within the Lough Neagh system. These drinking water catchments have been designated as a Drinking Water Protected Area (DWPA) under Article 7 of the Water Framework Directive’.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free
Ministerial inaction

The Northern Ireland Assembly declared a climate emergency in February this year. Furthermore, there was cross party support for the 13 October motion. However, the DUP’s Diane Dodds, who’s also minister for the economy, couldn’t support it. Dodds said:

At this stage, I cannot support the motion as presented. I have taken legal advice on the matter and have been advised that the course of action proposed in the motion would, most likely, be subject to challenge.

Instead Dodds said she’ll ask the Northern Ireland Executive “to take a fully informed decision”. Dodds said her department will bring about “Northern Ireland-specific research”. She then said:

As Minister with responsibility for this area, I am asking for the time and space to allow officials to develop evidence-based policy proposals that will be subject to a rigorous policy development process.

Good news

But campaigners are determined to stop the drill going ahead. What’s more, they’ve had success in the past. In 2016, campaigners stopped drilling for oil and gas at Woodburn forest. And so far no commercial oil extraction has taken place in the north. As stated by minister Dodds:

There are currently no petroleum licences in Northern Ireland. The last one, held by Terrain Energy, was relinquished on 28 April 2020.

Furthermore, minister for infrastructure Nichola Mallon is tightening environmental legislation. Mallon proposes changing legislation related to fracking. As matters stand, fracking can take place in the north of Ireland through permitted development rights. This means a company only needs planning permission for commercial extraction. But Mallon wants to make planning permission mandatory for exploration also.

Remaining environmental concern

The fight to protect the environment doesn’t stop at Lough Neagh. It also continues in other parts of the north. An anti-gold mining protester in the Sperrin mountains has launched a judicial review into the application to mine there.

While minister Mallon has ordered a public inquiry into this goldmine application, campaigner Martin Tracey feels it doesn’t go far enough. Tracey believes the inquiry should deal with health and environmental concerns as well as threats to life and safety. He wants Mallon’s investigation to comply with human rights.

In a separate case, minister Mallon angered environmentalists when she granted planning permission for dredging on Lough Neagh. This is taking place at a different site to the proposed petroleum drilling site. They described it as “an appalling assault on ecology and our environment”.

The campaign continues

Campaigners right across the north are active and are taking direct action to protect their environment. Our environment. With this success and momentum behind them, their environmental campaign is likely to get stronger.

Featured image via PixabayFlickr – Steven Alexander

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us