WELLS could be drilled in a number of locations in Cheshire in 2017 by chemicals company INEOS to possibly pave the way for fracking operations.

INEOS Upstream is to operate a licence awarded by the Government to allow it to explore for oil or gas possibly trapped in commercially viable quantities below ground.

The company has been awarded ‘acreage’ in three main areas, Yorkshire, the East Midlands and Cheshire, the latter including Northwich, Winsford and Knutsford.

INEOS Upstream is part of INEOS, and INEOS Shale is the company’s shale gas operating business.

“Our interest is focused on discovering whether gas can be produced from the shale layer of rock three to five kilometres below the surface,” said INEOS Shale CEO Gary Haywood in a letter to Wincham Parish Council, which is to discuss the issue at its January meeting.

“Any drilling or fracking operations to establish this would be subject to the normal planning process through the local planning authority, including extensive consultation with the community.

“INEOS Upstream is committed to open, transparent and ongoing communication with the communities in its licence areas.”

He said in some areas the company would need to carry out an assessment of the geology using ‘seismic data acquisition’, two and three-dimensional scanning of the subsurface to obtain a detailed understanding of the layers of rock beneath the ground.

“We are also likely to submit a number of planning applications during 2016 with a view to drilling up to four vertical wells across both the Cheshire and East Midland basins in 2017, with the option to extend the wells horizontally and perform a fracking operation if the initial results are encouraging,” said Mr Haywood.

“These initial wells will provide us with information to better understand the geology and the potential to produce gas at commercial rates.

“Although seismic data acquisition does not require planning permission we feel it is important to inform communities about all our activities, and intend holding community exhibitions ahead of any seismic acquisition programme.

“The exhibitions will have staff and resources available to explain how seismic data is acquired, the duration, equipment involved and what you might see or hear during the programme.

“Ahead of submission of any planning application to drill and/or frack a well we will hold community exhibitions where INEOS staff will explain our plans, what is involved and answer any questions the communities may have.

“INEOS also commits to keeping the communities informed as the planning application progresses and throughout the operations, if approved.

“From our experience in Scotland INEOS is often asked to provide a representative to speak to community groups, parish councils and charitable and business clubs. We are very happy to continue to do so.”