Ince Marshes have been chosen as the preferred location for a multi million-pound energy research site. 

The British Geological Survey (BGS) today revealed details about an ‘observatory for the underground’ which will provide research evidence on natural resources for heat and energy.

The Cheshire Energy Research field site will see the BGS drill 80 observation boreholes of various depths across a 28 sqkm area around Ince Marshes, near to Elton. 

The investment has been commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s main agency for funding environmental sciences.

BGS say the network of boreholes is designed to enable UK geoscientists and geoengineers to study geology in ‘unprecedented detail’, to observe how fluids and gas flow within underground systems and to understand the relationship between the rock layers, from the surface to deep underground.

The North Cheshire area has been targeted by energy firms looking to carry out gas exploration tests – leading to anti-fracking protest groups being set up in Chester, Ellesmere Port and Frodsham and Helsby – and the BGS has said in a statement that “some research will look at how shale gas behaves in the ground".

But it adds: "NERC will not be commissioning any extraction (shale gas fracking), but if licences are granted for others to extract gas in the area, the BGS will be monitoring the effects of this and our data will be available to all.

“The observatory will enable valuable science whether fracking is happening or not.”

Campaigners say the controversial technique of extracting oil and gas from shale rock using fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is bad for the environment because of the chemicals and pressures used. 

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 different rock types behave at a range of 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 at the very heart of Cheshire’s Energy Hub – with the wind farm, refinery, energy research centre and the hydrogen cluster as neighbours.

“North Cheshire is also under an onshore oil and gas licence, with operators actively exploring the area.

“The Observatories will build on Cheshire’s standing as an energy hub and strengthen this corridor of scientific activity, which stretches from the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the east through the Daresbury Laboratory, to our research site, drawing in some of the best scientists and engineers in the world."

The project is part of a £31m science investment which includes a similar centre in Glasgow.

Residents from the North Cheshire area are being invited by the BGS to attend community meetings in October, November and December. BGS scientists will be available to speak about the project, answer questions, discuss the science objectives and what the investment could mean for the community.

The first meetings for residents will be on Wednesday, October 11 at Elton Village Hall (10am to noon) and Thornton Church Hall (6-8pm).