02/11/2011 10:59 GMT | Updated 02/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Protesters Halt Work At Fracking Drill After Report Blames Tests For Tremors

Protesters have scaled a drilling rig in Lancashire that extracts shale gas after a report blamed the practice, known as fracking, for causing a number of small earthquakes in the region.

A group of around four activists from the group Frack Off climbed the rig on Cuadrilla Resources’ site in Hesketh Bank on Wednesday afternoon in response to the report.

Fracking, or Hydraulic fracturing, involves extracting gas from underground by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale rock in order to create fissures along which the gas can travel.

On Wednesday a report by independent experts found that the drilling was the likely cause of a 2.3 magnitude quake on April 1 followed by a second of magnitude 1.4 on May 27.

This morning protesters from the 'Frack Off' group claimed to have halted work at Cuadrilla Resources' drilling site and scaled the rig using climbing equipment.

Jenny Boykin, a spokesperson for Frack Off, said: "Fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals, a large fraction of which are never recovered.

"The fracking fluid also leaches chemicals like arsenic out of the rocks when it is used making it even more toxic and so the fluid that is recovered becomes a big disposal problem.

"The contamination of irrigation water means that everyone's food supplies could potentially be affected. Fracking in the United States has already resulted in numerous spills of these fluids."

In a statement issued following the direct action by the group, Cuadrilla said its priority was the safety of both the protesters and the staff on site.

"Cuadrilla understands that there are five protestors on site, four of whom are attached to the machinery. The police are present on site and we are working with them to bring the protest to a peaceful end," the company said.

"Throughout our time working at the Banks site, and the others in Lancashire, we have been very open, inviting local people, stakeholders and the media around the site.

"Over 50 local people and their elected representatives have been shown round the Banks site and we would have been delighted to show these protestors around rather than them need to carry out this potentially dangerous occupation of the drilling rig."

The practice has also been heavily criticised by other environmental groups, who have called for a moratorium on shale gas extraction until the environmental risks have been properly researched.

Nick Molho, head of energy policy at WWF-UK, said that there was no evidence that shale gas would have any impact on lowering energy bills for consumers.

“These findings are worrying, and are likely to add to the very real concerns that people have about fracking and shale gas. More to the point though, we’re extremely concerned by the way in which shale gas is being painted as a ‘wonder gas’ which will slash energy bills in Britain and help tackle climate change," he said.

“Shale gas is still a fossil fuel, and a new dash for gas could see global temperatures skyrocket. There’s also no evidence that it will have a big impact on energy bills, which have in fact been driven up in recent years by a rising gas price.

"Our research shows that renewables are the best way of reducing our disproportionate vulnerability to the gas price and tackling climate change in the long term; the government has to listen and resist the siren calls of the fossil fuel industry.“

Andrew Cooper, chair of the association of Green Party councillors, said the earthquakes highlighted the need for the government to invest in renewable sources of energy such as solar power rather than "dangerous" mining of non-renewable sources which were causing tremors in Blackpool.

The government need to look at safe forms of energy," he said. "It is crazy we are investing in the wrong things, not just for environmental reasons, but for safety reasons."