ST Helens could be the latest area to see battle lines drawn over fracking - the controversial process of extracting shale gas.
UK energy firm IGas announced this week that the North West is sitting on far more deposits of the natural resource than was first estimated.
And parts of St Helens and its surrounding areas are within the boundaries covered by government licences owned by energy firms looking to exploit the gas deposits.
Fracking - the process of pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into underground rock to release the gas - has split opinion due to its reported link to earth tremors and other environmental risks.
The UK arm of international gas company, Dart Energy, currently holds a licence to potentially undertake extreme energy extraction procedures in areas including Sutton, Clock Face, Burtonwood and Newton-le-Willows.
A spokesman for Dart confirmed to the Reporter that the area south of St Helens was part of the company’s plans in North West England that includes plots in Chester and also North Wales.
The spokesman said: “Although a licence for the area is in place, sometimes developments in this industry can be incredibly slow moving and there are no immediate plans for exploration at the current time.”
However, rival firm IGas has announced plans to start drilling for shale gas later this year in its own licenced area which includes the M62 corridor between Liverpool and Manchester which could have knock-on effects in St Helens.
Although the fracking process could produce jobs and a boost to the local economy, protestors argue that the high pressure gas excavation can have detrimental effects to the local environment.
Reports suggest a link to earth tremors, water contamination and effects on an area’s water table.
Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, said: “All households should be concerned that fracking would tie us into the expensive option of gas generation of electricity, when 85% of the massive leap in energy bills from 2004-2011 was due to rising gas prices.
“The International Energy Agency expects the cost of gas to double in the next decade.
“Fracking is immensely destructive to local environments, with thousands of lorry movements for each well, vast consumption of water and production of contaminated waste. And the independent Committee on Climate Change says Britain cannot frack and meet its legally binding carbon emission targets.
“It’s claimed fracking would create jobs. But it would also destroy many jobs in tourism and farming.”
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