Fracking has begun on the Fylde despite two lock-on protests at Cuadrilla’s drill site, which caused the police to shut the A583 in both directions.
Campaigners say they are disappointed and have vowed to stand firm in the fight against fracking, which they say will lead to pollution, earth tremors, industrialisation of the countryside and make climate change worse.
But shale gas supporters, who say it will bring a valuable home grown resource and jobs and prosperity, have hailed the move.
Cuadrilla issued a statement saying: “Cuadrilla is pleased to confirm that it has started hydraulic fracturing operations at our Preston New Road shale gas exploration site.
“Hydraulic fracturing of both horizontal exploration wells is expected to last three months after which the flow rate of the gas will be tested.”
The company began pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground in a bid to shatter the shale rock and release natural gas trapped inside to be pumped back to the surface.
If the results are successful the operation will be stepped up into a full production phase, subject to further planning permission.
A spokesman for the Preston New Road Action Group, which opposes fracking, said: “We are deeply disappointed that despite many ongoing concerns and challenges, the decision to progress fracking at this time has been taken.
“Over 100,000 people objected to this fracking application. In addition, our parish council, Fylde Borough Council and Lancashire County Council rejected the application.
“There are now hundreds of scientific studies that have already identified risks and actual harms resulting from fracking. The UK government has blatantly ignored them all.”
The news also came in the week that the Government launched its new environmental campaign – Green Great Britain Week.
But campaigners said today that the Government’s decision to push on with fracking despite the opposition from every council in the area and fears more gas production would further fuel climate change, rendered its new campaign a joke.
John Hobson, from Frack Free Lancashire, said: “There’s a huge irony that we are stood here for the first fracking in the UK since 2011, a week to the day after the IPCC issued a dire warning that we only have 11 years to take action to avert catastrophic climate change.
“And top climate scientist James Hansen has written to the energy minister Claire Perry to say that fracking is incompatible with the actions we need to take.
“She is launching Green Great Britain Week. If it was not so tragic it would be hilarious.”
The lock-on protests were organised by national activist group Reclaim the Power.
Two people were locked together with their arms inside tyres in the westbound carriageway of the A583 near Westby Road, while two others were on top of a white van at the entrance to Cuadrilla’s drill site with a banner saying “stop the start, don’t frack the climate.”
Charlie Edwards, from the group, said: “Today the government has launched its Green Great Britain week – a tokenistic attempt to hide a series of climate wrecking decisions such as expanding Heathrow Airport and forcing fracking on the local communities.
“After granting permission to frack earlier in the summer, last week the energy minister had the hypocrisy to say there was “no excuse” for inaction on climate change.
“So we’re here today to stop the start of fracking, and show Claire Perry what real action on climate change looks like.”
Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth chief executive, said: “The world’s leading climate scientists have published findings that couldn’t be starker – to have a hope of containing global warming we must take action now.
“Yet, ironically, on the same day the government boldly asks how it can reduce carbon emissions to zero, fracking begins. It is morally bankrupt to be heralding the start of a whole new fossil fuel industry when climate catastrophe awaits.”
David Eaton, one of the two people locked together in the road, said: “I am here today because they want to frack. I am here today because my family live locally and I don’t want this to happen.”
Asked if it was a responsible thing to block a busy main road, he replied; “Is it responsible to poison our children? Is it responsible to make money out of destroying our environment?”
Fellow protester Sadie Love said: “It is a peaceful protest. We are not causing alarm or distress to anyone.”
But a spokesman for Lancashire For Shale said: “Businesses across the Fylde will no doubt be furious that national campaign group, Reclaim the Power, has once again orchestrated protests that have led to the main Blackpool to Preston road being closed, causing travel disruption for everyone but Cuadrilla, which has started fracking this afternoon regardless.
“You would think that, by now, the national activists would have got the message that direct action of this sort only serves to undermine support for the local anti-fracking campaign. It does nothing to prevent the progress of the industry, and simply locks us into using more climate-damaging gas imports for longer.”