Campaigners are unhappy as early stage public consultations begin into establishing a world class fracking research centre near Chester as part of a £31m government project.
Discussions are ongoing with the University of Chester to locate the centre at its Thornton Science Park by Ince.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is consulting the public prior to submitting a planning application for the facility whose focus will be investigating shale gas and carbon capture.
Carbon capture is the underground storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power generation and industry to protect the atmosphere but some greens would prefer more research into renewables.
And environmentalists fear water and air contamination from shale gas industry and the extraction method known as fracking has been linked to earth tremors near Blackpool.
Called the Cheshire Energy Research Field Site, the project will involve drilling 80 observation boreholes of various depths across a 28 sqkm area around Ince Marshes.
The network of boreholes has been designed to enable scientists to study geology in unprecedented detail, to observe how fluids and gas flow within underground systems.
Measurements would be taken such as seismic activity, water movement and chemistry.
BGS says there will be no shale gas extraction but the Cheshire site will look at how shale gas behaves in the ground.
And if licenses are granted for others to extract gas in the area, BGS will be monitoring the effects with the data available to all.
Gaining planning consent may not be easy because of the close association with fracking given Labour-led Cheshire West and Chester Council holds an anti-fracking stance – even though the planning authority is legally not allowed to be pre-determined.
And all the local Labour MPs are against fracking including Chester's Chris Matheson, who said: “The people of Chester and surrounding area have made it clear that we don’t want fracking and this latest development is not welcome.
"Academic studies about the optimum form of fracking cannot take into account the commercial pressures that fracking companies will face to minimise their costs and maximise their profits.
“So even if the apparently academic study tells us all is fine, the reality is there will be cut corners and lower safety standards. Nor can any academic study take into account the massive cuts to the health and safety executive and the Environment Agency who will have to police commercial operations.
“The government is working hand in hand with the fracking companies to try and hoodwink residents. Instead the government should be investing in research and development into non-carbon based fuels.”
Upton councillor and anti-fracking campaigner Matt Bryan agreed: “This is a classic example of diverting investment and our brightest minds away from the long-term solution which is renewable energy production.”
Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury said: “I’ll be asking for an urgent meeting to seek assurances about the nature of the project and will continue to monitor developments in the area closely.
"Although research into alternative energy sources is needed, many in my constituency will be rightly concerned that this could pave the way for fracking on the borders of Weaver Vale.
"This area has been singled out by energy firms looking to carry out gas exploration tests in the past and the BGS themselves say that some of the research they carry out at this site will look specifically at shale gas.
"Myself and Labour colleagues have said time and again that fracking is not wanted here, it is intrusive and destructive.”
The Cheshire Energy Research Field Site aims to attract world-leading geologists, engineers and other scientists to undertake energy-related research.
The ambition is to advance understanding of the technologies and science needed for carbon storage, energy storage, underground storage of waste material as well as shale gas. A sister site in Glasgow will be the focus of geothermal energy research.
Professor John Ludden, executive director of the BGS, said: “Ince Marshes provides researchers with a complex geological environment that enables them to examine the way that different rock types behave at a range of different depths.
“Ince Marshes also has the combination of natural environmental change from the estuary and impact from major infrastructure, industry and population centres. It is also located at the very heart of Cheshire’s energy hub – with the wind farm, refinery, energy research centre, mixed-use energy development and the hydrogen cluster as neighbours.
“North Cheshire is also under an onshore oil and gas licence, with operators actively exploring the area.”
He added: “We need the subsurface environment to develop a mix of low-carbon energy technologies at the required scale – whether that’s for carbon storage, energy storage, geothermal energy, hydrogen production or lower-carbon energy sources.
“It is vital that we build the best-possible geological evidence base to be able to optimise the process without an adverse impact on the environment.”
The investment has been commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s main agency for funding environmental sciences, and is being delivered by the BGS.
The BGS will be holding community meetings in in October, November and December for residents to find out more. British Geological Survey scientists will be available to speak about the project, answer questions, discuss the science objectives and what the investment could mean for the area.
Join the BGS on Wednesday, October 11 at:
■ Elton Village Hall - 10am to 12pm
■ Thornton Church Hall - 6pm to 8pm
The BGS will also be available in community locations in Chester, Dunham, Frodsham, Hapsford, Helsby and Ince throughout the autumn. Dates and times will be confirmed and advertised locally. Full details will also be on the BGS website.