THE minister for energy and climate change has moved to reassure residents that any fracking in Warrington would be subject to the ‘highest levels of safety’ during a visit to the town.

Andrea Leadsom visited the IGas site at Doe Green, near Penketh, on Thursday morning with Warrington South MP David Mowat as part of a fracking fact-finding mission.

The exploratory coal bed methane site on Farnworth Road is one of two potential fracking sites in the town, with the other sited near the Thelwall Viaduct.

She said: “There’s a lot of accusations from people who are against onshore gas extraction – that they’re enormous, that they’re terribly intrusive and so on.

“But as you can see here it’s very quiet, it’s very low level and the well heads are no taller than a six foot four man – it’s very quiet, very small and very unobtrusive.

“One of the things I’m really keen to do by coming here today is to reassure the public that this isn’t something that’s just being left to chance as some of the evidence from early days seems to have been, but that there is a very, very tight regime around it and we will absolutely ensure the highest levels of safety.”

The process of fracking sees water and chemicals pushed down into a drilled well in order to fracture the ground and extract gas that is trapped under the surface.

Anti-fracking groups have raised concerns over water contamination, air pollution and seismic activity.

Ms Leadsom also discussed the possibility of the two exploratory sites in Warrington becoming full fracking sites.

She added: “At the moment we are hoping that companies will come forward with planning applications for shale gas exploration wells and only once they’ve drilled those wells and discovered that there is shale gas that can be extracted they would then apply to actually hydraulically fracture those wells.

“That’s really important, for people to feel reassured that just because an exploratory well is being done it doesn’t mean that there will then be a frack pad.

“But of course in the event that shale gas that can be extracted is identified then we would expect sites like this to pop up – subject to local planning consent – that would then make a significant contribution to the gas needs of the UK over the next 10 or 20 years as we transition to a low carbon economy.

“I think it’s really important to understand exactly what goes on and of course we in the UK we’ve had 50 years of world class regulation in extracting oil and gas – both offshore and onshore – so we have some of the tightest regulations in the world.

“The Environment Agency, the health and safety executive and of course the Oil and Gas Authority who issue the licences in the first place are all absolutely focused on the safe drilling, exploration and subsequently hydraulic fracturing.

“There is no point at which the process will be allowed to just go of its own volition, there will be very tight safety controls around every aspect.

“As that process occurs then any seismic activity – so the little earth tremors that were felt in the Lancashire drills of some years ago now – if that seismic activity exceeded a point that very sensitive instruments could identify then the fracturing process would be stopped.

“It’s been likened to the same as somebody jumping off a ladder or slamming a door, that sort of level of earth tremor, so I can’t stress enough how incredibly tight the regulations will be around hydraulic fracturing.”