GREEN Party leader Natalie Bennett has given her support to a campaign to block test gas drilling in a field near Chester.
She visited Frack Free Upton’s tent village at Duttons Lane, Upton on Friday, along with European election candidate Peter Cranie.
The site has been manned 24 hours a day since April 5, preventing Dart Energy, now owned by shale gas explorer Igas, from testing for underground gas deposits.
Campaigners say they have the full backing of the local community and have collected more than 900 signatures for a petition.
They fear deep drilling could unleash cancer-causing chemicals into the local water supply and even cause earthquakes similar as those that occurred in Blackpool in 2011, which were believed to have been caused by fracking.
About 18,000 people live in the Upton area and more than 3,000 children attend a school within a mile of the proposed test site, the group says.
Mrs Bennett said: “This is a central issue and it’s great that here in Cheshire there are so many people coming together to oppose this extreme form of energy.”
She said energy from fossil fuels should be rejected in favour of that being generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar and tidal.
“Fossils fuels are finished,” she said. “We need to leave at least 50 per cent of resources in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s not just me saying that. it’s the experts.”
She also praised the campaigners on their diligence and the quality of the camp.
“I’m very impressed with the facilities here, particularly with the way they’ve dealt with the mud!” she said. “I’m used to being knee deep when I visit sites.”
Mr Cranie said the Government had agreed to the use of fracking in principle, so it was now vital that environmental regulations were made as tight as possible.
He also praised the community’s efforts to keep fracking drills out of Upton, saying it was an issue that concerned people of all ages and backgrounds, rather than just “hippies”.
“The hippy stereotype is gone now,” he said. “The fact that the whole community is involved is very significant. I’ve heard about people who have given up their jobs, sold their flats and are now living on savings to join in and fight this.”
Campaigner Thomas Hughes, 31, was one of around 20 people who welcomed the Green Party politicians to the camp.
He said: “The Green Party is the only one opposed to fracking so that’s why we are welcoming them here. It’s not a political thing for us, it’s just about anything that helps us keep the drills out.”
The group was the first in the country to “pre-emptively” occupy a field where test drilling was about to take place, he said.
The group has expressed outrage that there was no public consultation before permission was granted to the company to carry out “exploratory” drilling.
Dart Energy said last month it had planning consent to test for coal bed methane at the site, but said any protest was premature as no drilling was scheduled.
A spokesman said the company did not have permission to undertake hydraulic fracturing – fracking – at the site and the extraction of coal bed methane did not use that process.