Planning permission for the exploratory well on land off Merseyton Road between the M53 and the Ship Canal dates back to an application approved in 2010.
IGas Energy, which already delivers the equivalent of 3,000 barrels of oil and gas a day to Britain’s refineries, is looking to drill down 2,100m during the autumn to test for the presence of methane in the coal bed beneath the town or oil or gas at deeper levels.
No fracking is proposed as part of the exploration on the site which will cover about one and a half football pitches.
The London-based firm is licensed to explore in the ‘Ocean Gateway’ area which includes along the Mersey and Dee Estuaries, Cheshire, North Wales and the approaches to Manchester.
The naturally occurring gas is trapped in the coal and is extracted, if found, by drilling down vertically and then horizontally into the coal seam.
It is released by pumping out the water found in coal seams to reduce the underground pressure on the coal enabling the gas to be collected.
The company explains the exploratory drilling enables the presence of oil or gas to be assessed and the quality and quantity to be determined.
Research has already suggested the coal beds and potentially shale in the area have the potential to hold very large amounts of gas.
IGas, which has more than 30 years experience and a RoSPA gold medal for its safety record, is already producing coal bed methane in north Cheshire where the fuel generates electricity which is fed into the grid for use in homes and businesses.
It describes the site at Merseyton Road as well screened from commercial and residential areas and some distance from properties.
The site is surrounded on three sides by traditional employment and industry and noise would be below existing background levels.
As a first step, the site will be capped with an impermeable membrane to prevent fluids used during the drilling to escape into the surface or the local environment.
As the well is drilled, each section will be cased off with steel pipes to protect groundwater and ensure the well is isolated from the surrounding rock.
IGas describes the containment of oil or gas within the well on its way to the surface as the ‘utmost priority’.
Each section is tested before further operations take place and continues to be monitored.
Drilling usually takes about 12 weeks and involves a slim line derrick about 32m in height which is removed as soon as drilling is complete.
The operation continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week after which the site is cleared. Floodlighting has been approved by the borough council.
Analysis then takes several months.
Waste will be dealt with by licensed operators and the Environment Agency is already seeking the views of local people and interested groups following an application by the company for an environmental permit to manage the waste arising from the drilling.
The agency will consider any comments received before making a decision on whether to grant the permit. The consultation will run until Friday July 25.
IGas says the well site will be subject to regular inspections by the borough council to ensure the site and drilling operations are in accordance with detailed conditions in the planning permission.
These cover issues including noise and air quality.
Independent environmental consultants will also be on hand looking in detail at aspects including groundwater, ground gas, surface water, air quality and surface soil samples.
IGas says the drilling programme will be completed in accordance with industry best practice and will meet requirements laid down by bodies including the Department for Energy, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive in addition to the planning conditions.
The company explains the exploration well, which has permission until 2039, could lead to further detailed assessments and production if it is successful which would require a new planning application and permits.
On possible fracking it says:“We do not have planning permission for any hydraulic fracturing to take place at the Ellesmere Port site.
“If we find there might be potential for this in the future then we would have to submit a new and separate planning application and apply for the relevant permits from the relevant regulatory authorities such as the Environment Agency and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
“This will require full consultation with the local community.”
An industry source said: “A common misconception is that when an operator carries out exploratory drilling, fracking is an inevitability if they discover a substantial reserve of shale gas.
“The reality is far from that as there are a myriad of other considerations – commercial, environmental, planning, permits etc that influence that decision.”
The company says it places ‘huge importance’ in building understanding in the areas in which it operates.
As part of this it is holding a public drop in session tomorrow (Thursday) at the Holiday Inn at Waterways, Lower Mersey Street where people can find out more about natural gas exploration and what it could mean for the region.
This will take place from 3pm to 8pm.
It argues onshore drilling ‘is highly regulated, uses proven technology and practices and can unlock a precious energy resource to heat our homes and businesses’.
IGas chief operating officer John Blaymires said: “We will be carrying out exploratory drilling for coal bed methane in Ellesmere Port later in the autumn.
“The operation will enable us to learn more about the geology of the local area and the natural gas resources that potentially lie in the rock formations below.
“We like to work closely with the communities in which we operate and are keen to talk to local residents and businesses about our plans.
“We would urge as many people as possible to attend our community information day tomorrow (Thursday) when there will be a chance to ask questions and discuss the project with us.”