Just past Barton Aerodrome on the A57, and down the lane at the side of a cottage festooned with Save Our Green Belt banners is a growing army of tents and mini-vans making up the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp.
Local street music guru, Markus, has arrived from his home in Irlam to join the camp and show his support for those who have come from far and wide to oppose the IGas exploratory drilling site, a concrete and steel-fenced bunker which is just a bit further up the lane in the midst of what is currently beautiful green land.
"I'm astounded that this is about to happen around here" Markus explains "This place keeps people sane; they spread their loved one's ashes here and walk their dogs and most people's best memories are up here. Those I've spoken to who are aware of what's going to happen here are totally against it. It's just not worth it."
IGas has planning permission from Salford Council, dating back from 2010, to do exploratory drilling for coal bed methane. But everyone here and beyond believes the true intention is to extract shale gas, via the process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing - which involves drilling down thousands of feet and injecting liquid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release huge amounts of gas.
Ex United States oil man, Ian R Crane, who has arrived at the camp, paints a truly gruesome picture of the fall out to the area and its community if, or when, fracking takes place…
"Based on my experience what is potentially going to be unleashed here, and elsewhere in the UK, is an ecological time bomb, a nightmare scenario" he explains "There are numerous examples of people who have had their water contaminated, the soil is contaminated to point where it can't sustain any crops and the air is contaminated because of the migration of methane. The oil industry claims that long term exposure to methane is not a problem but the oil industry has shut down all research into it.
"What you will see in this area is between six and eight `pads' per square mile and the whole of the land under the surface will be fracked" he adds "You've not only got the issue of the unknown in the geology, there's also four hundred truck movements just to get each pad operational. And each pad has a life expectancy of around fifty years, so you've got fifty years of thousands of truck movements. Wherever this industry moves into town property prices tank."
Ian explains the exception, oft quoted in the media, is North Dakota, but that's in the middle of nowhere. Nearer home, he recounts that Santander actually withheld a mortgage offer on a property eight miles from the drilling site of Balcobme because of the uncertainty of the fracking process.
"There was a meeting last week with IGas and the bottom line is that they are either deceitful or wilfully ignorant when they claim they are not aware of the problems that this process has caused in the US, Canada and Australia" he says "And they're also very deceitful when they claim they are not going to frack here.
"We know they're not going to frack in the exploratory well but you wouldn't be drilling an exploratory well unless you had the intention of using the hydraulic fracturing process to extract shale gas" he explains "There is no other way to get it out. There is not a single shale gas play [area] in the world where the shale gas can be extracted without hydraulic fracturing.
"The licence may be for coal bed methane but the motherload is in the 5000ft thick shale play that lies beneath the coal measures" he adds "That's why they're spending approximately £1.5million drilling 5000ft beneath the coal measures into the limestone bed rock here. This is the southern end of the Bowland shale play which harbours enormous resources.
"The reality is that we do not have a safe technology to extract it and that's why the French have recently banned it, with President Francois Hollande saying `The only thing that is proven is that the technology does not work in the way the oil industry claims'" Ian concludes "With IGas, the ultimate game plan is to make it look as though anybody who objects is off their trolley…"
The Barton camp citizens are definitely not `off their trolley'. They're camping in sub-zero temperatures to draw attention to the eco-blitz on Salford's green doorstep. Sean has been here for two weeks…
"The public just doesn't know what's been going on and that's the reason we're here, to shake the cages of these companies and wake people up" he explains "I'm just trying to expose what people don't know. I'd say `Educate yourself'; it doesn't take much, turn the tv off and find out what IGas, Cuadrilla and other companies are doing. The general public around here are absolutely furious about what is going to be going on here under their feet."
Not only are people furious about what IGas are doing in Barton, but green organisations are furious with what Salford City Council has done. At the weekend Friends of the Earth (FOE) put out a press release publicising a letter it had sent to the Council, warning that `plans to drill for shale gas in Barton Moss, Salford, are in breach of planning permission'…
"We believe there are major discrepancies between IGas' planning application and their current plans" said Friends of the Earth's North West campaigner Helen Rimmer "It's clear that IGas have intentions to drill for shale gas, which could lead to risky fracking."
The letter set out fifteen points of concern, including the fact that no Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out before planning permission was granted. And that the planning permission was granted for coal bed methane… "However documents submitted by IGas to the Environment Agency in connection with its application for a mining waste permit make clear its intention to drill for shale gas at the site."
Freedom of Information requests by campaigners show that the ecological horror fall-out have barely been considered. Given the earth tremors that occurred near Blackpool when Cuadrilla began `exploratory drilling', the request to the Council asked…
"In the event of an earthquake, can the Council confirm if it has undertaken evaluation or been advised of the local aqueduct and its role in water supply and whether it would be either compromised or contaminated from the site?"
Response: The Council consulted with the Environment Agency when the planning application was considered 2010. No objections were received.
"What precautions has the Council taken to ensure the company will have the resources / funds to fulfil their liabilities in the event of contamination, seismic disturbance or other event given the potential impact their activities may have on the local community?"
Response: We can confirm no information is held as there was no requirement for the Council as local planning authority to impose such measures.
Salford Mayor Ian Stewart, tweeted at the weekend "I can GUARANTEE that #nofracking is taking place in Salford. Needs permission from 3 public bodies - and that has not been given! #calmdown"
Salford Council and the Mayor seem to be implying that all will be okay if it is left to them. But the Council's environmental record isn't the best. It turned a blind eye for years as ecologically precious `raised bogs' were destroyed for peat at Barton Moss on land owned by Peel Holdings (see here and see here and see here).
And local residents are wondering whether the Council will give Peel Holdings planning permission for building huge amounts of housing on the Green Belt in Barton (see here). Meanwhile, another Peel project, Port Salford, to be built across the road from the IGas drilling site with £30million of public funding and loans, will also see huge traffic pollution and congestion in the area (see here).
Virtually all the green land surrounding the exploratory drilling site is owned by Peel Holdings – and that should certainly be setting off alarms in the local community, as the company tries to exploit every single square inch of land it owns…
The first person to arrive three weeks ago at the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp was Gary… "I want my children to drink clean water" he says "And these dudes have got no concern for my children really. I'll stay here for as long as it takes."
And Markus will be trying to get the local young people he knows to join him… "I've got a tent here and I'll stay as much as I can" he says "I'm going to encourage my nieces and nephews and their friends to come and spend some time here and I urge everyone to support this camp as much as they can. This has just been sneaked upon us."
For more news on the progress of the Camp see Facebook site Say No To Fracking On Barton Moss. The site also has a `wish list' of things people can donate to support the Camp.
See also original Salford Star article on planning permission for coal bed methane drilling - click here
* The North West Green Party European elections candidate, Peter Cranie, has also voiced his approval of the Camp...
"The protestors who've set up camp have my support and the support of many Salford residents who are worried about what drilling will mean for their community" he said "The Green Party is the only political party to oppose fracking, with election candidates standing on the platform of 'Stop Fracking Now' in areas such as Blackpool. In the protests at Balcombe our MP, Caroline Lucas, was arrested for voicing her strong opposition to this dash for gas which favours corporate profits at the expense of local people.
"Fracking for shale gas seriously undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Indeed if we're serious about meeting our climate change obligations we should be directing more money towards community owned renewables, rather than giving tax breaks to corporations wanting to frack on our greenbelt. If shale gas is discovered in this area I very much hope that Salford and Trafford councils will refuse planning permission and leave it in the ground, where it belongs."
Photos by Steven Speed