St Helens could be handed a jobs boost if fracking operations are brought to the area, a report by economic experts has said.
Underground shale gas reserves potentially available in the region could be worth £10bn to the economy, it adds.
The report, commissioned by energy giants IGas and Peel Environmental, estimates that more than 3,500 jobs would be created in the North West, more than 15,542 in the UK. Although some roles would require additional training for local workforces.
Energy firms hold licences covering parts of the borough although any operations would be subject to planning permission.
IGas this month cancelled plans to conduct a seismological survey in areas around Newton-le-Willoows.
In terms of jobs, the fracking report by Amion Consulting said: “It is anticipated that the size of the local resident labour pool with appropriate skills will be somewhat limited in the first instance. But there will be opportunities to enhance the pool through training with colleges or perhaps the development of a dedicated training institution.”
The report estimates that 30 shale gas production sites could be seen in the “Ocean Gateway” region - encompassing areas between Manchester and Liverpool - between 2017 and 2031. Each site would comprise a further 10 vertical production wells and 40 horizontal lateral wells covering miles underground.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves vast quantities of water and chemicals being fired at underground shale rock formations to release natural gas.
It has given a boost to the US economy but has drawn environmental concerns that it can contaminate water supplies and cause earth tremors.
St Helens anti-fracking campaigner Stephen Hall has criticised the government’s support for fracking, suggesting public funds should be invested in green energy solutions.
He said: “They would be better off investing that amount on solar panels and better insulation in homes. That would reduce unemployment drastically and would also save the planet.”
North West MEP, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, welcomed the report and its prediction of a jobs boon. He said: “There is no doubt that alternative fuel sources are needed urgently and I believe that shale gas is an answer. Unlike inefficient wind farms this energy source may well help keep the lights on for decades,”