Eco-warriers behind a ‘protection camp’ against unconventional gas drilling have been dubbed “hippy protesters” by some, but their base seems more like an advance party for an army at war.

The opposition to coal bed methane drilling at Upton might be non-violent but the organisation behind the camp and its supply lines seems militaristic in the attention to detail.

The camp includes an information tent for visitors, a kitchen, toilets and a tree house look-out post, likely to be a key battleground if protesters decide to chain themselves to the ancient oak.

While The Chronicle visited, vans kept arriving with supplies including cool boxes and wood for the camp fire.

 

Behind the scenes, teams have been set up to co-ordinate the camp, disseminate information about renewable energy, run a website, handle the media and keep an eye on planning applications for more coal bed methane and fracking sites.

The campaigners, made up of protesters from outside the area supported by locals, believe they have forced Dart Energy to delay its plans to set up a test drill at the Upton site, although Dart insists the operation had not even been scheduled.

Boughton resident Peter Benson has visited the camp just about every day since it was established.

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He said: “I joined Friends of the Earth about four years ago because I was concerned about climate change.

“I wanted to know what the facts were and I had heard a lot about unconventional gas extraction but I never expected it to come to my doorstep.

“It’s right here on the edge of Chester, 700m from the zoo, 500m from Upton High School, there are eight schools in the neighbourhood.

“Regardless of how careful they might be with the extraction process there are always spillages, there are always releases.

“And they deliberately burn off stuff, which isn’t like burning the clean gas coming out of your cooker, that’s burning stuff that’s come straight from the ground, it’s full of radon and other things you won’t even have heard of.

“You are drilling through the aquifer here, 25% of England’s ground water comes from under this area, like an underground lake, and it won’t be just this one or a few, there will hundreds or even thousands of drills over the whole area. It’s just far too toxic.”

Mr Benson said the UK should not be tying itself in to burning fossil fuels for 50 years with the next generation of power stations. “We’ve got our own supply of energy. We’ve got wind, we’ve got wave, we’ve got tide, solar. Even in England you can get a good day’s solar power here,” he explained.

Upton resident Karen Flynn worries for the health of her daughter Harriet, five, having researched the subject.

And she is concerned Cheshire West and Chester Council has given several permissions, behind closed doors, for the energy companies to start exploring underground.

“They should have stood firm, they should have said ‘no’ like other councils. I believe Cheshire East have said ‘no, we’re not having this in our area’. ”

Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that local authorities will keep 100% of business rates revenue collected from fracking developments with affected communities allowed to keep 1% of revenues.

But Ms Flynn, a social worker, responded: “I can understand in cash-strapped times, I really understand why that’s an attractive option. They’ve got to manage, but at the end of the day what’s going to be the long term cost?”