FRACKING in Northwich has moved a step closer as INEOS has revealed it is preparing to move into its next phase.

INEOS Shale, the shale gas development arm of INEOS, will begin carrying out seismic surveys to try and determine the most suitable locations to explore for oil or gas below ground.

A seismic survey is a technique similar to an ultrasound that is used to develop images of the rock layers below ground.

Before creating the sound waves, large urban and rural areas are first covered in arrays of detectors (geophones), connected with miles of cabling.

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

A spokesman for INEOS said: “INEOS holds licences to explore for shale gas in areas of the UK including Cheshire.

“However, our process to determine the best places for extraction is still at an early stage.

“We are nearing completion of our desktop studies and this means that in the next 18 months we will carry out 3D imaging surveys to build up a better picture of local geology.

“This data, coupled with sample drilling, helps to tell us where it is best to drill for gas.”

The INEOS spokesman said the firm will continue to hold public consultations throughout the process.

Frack Free Northwich, a community group that are opposed to fracking in Northwich and its surrounding areas, claims that seismic surveying is ‘highly intrusive’.

The spokesman said: "We've learned that, although seismic surveys do not require planning permission, they are by their very nature highly intrusive, requiring access to the large areas of land being surveyed, and although companies might inform councils and send letters to some residents, they do not have any right to access private land without prior agreement.”

Frack Free Northwich, which are part of the Frack Free Dee coalition, claimed seismic surveying in other areas of the UK has had a negative impact.

"While the greatest threat from these surveys is the data they provide to facilitate future fracking, the survey process itself is not without consequences,” the spokesman said.

“Other Frack Free groups in Lancashire and Cheshire, where testing has already commenced, have reported trespassing in gardens, impacts on local wildlife, including a statement from a local farmer who reported a total absence of moles from his fields where the testing took place, and incidents of structural damage to buildings.

“We can only hope that the contractors used by INEOS to survey around Northwich know what they're doing in this area, so structurally fragile due to salt mining.”

Frack Free Northwich said residents should look out for ‘large, odd-looking trucks, teams of workers laying down cables, and possibly some mild earth tremors’.

The group has urged residents to report any possible seismic surveying sightings or unusual activity to