Shale gas has begun flowing for the first time from a controversial fracking site in Lancashire.
On Friday, energy firm Cuadrilla said it had begun to see natural gas flow to the surface at its site on Preston New Road in Little Plumpton.
The firm, which began the hydraulic fracturing process at the site on October 15, described the news as “significant”.
Chief executive officer Francis Egan said: “The volumes of gas returning to surface at this stage are small.
“However, considering that we are only at the very start of fracturing operations and, given operating constraints, have not yet been able to inject as much sand into the shale as we had planned, this is a good early indication of the gas potential that we have long talked about.”
In the past few weeks the company has had to halt work for periods due to tremors.
Last week, work was halted after a tremor of 0.8 magnitude was detected and the process had to be stopped again on Monday following a tremor of 1.1 magnitude.
The firm will fully test flow rates from the two exploration wells on the site towards the end of the year.
Mr Egan said: “This Preston New Road site is being monitored to an unprecedented level. This initial gas flow is by no means the end of the story.
“However, it provides early encouragement that the Bowland Shale can provide a significant source of natural gas to heat Lancashire and UK homes and offices and reduce our ever growing reliance on expensive foreign imports.”
The news was welcomed by supporters of the fracking process.
Lee Petts, chairman of Lancashire for Shale, said: “This is fantastic news and a real credit to the expertise and tenacity of Cuadrilla and its partners, proving that it is possible to safely recover gas from the rich shale deposits beneath our feet.”
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is great news and early indications are looking extremely promising.
“Shale gas represents a huge economic opportunity for Lancashire firms not only in terms of winning new business but also creating new jobs and generating new market opportunities.”
Anti-fracking campaigners argue the process poses risks to the environment.
Executive director of Greenpeace UK John Sauven said: “It’s now over seven years since the first UK well was fracked.
“After all the many millions invested, the changes in the law, the removal of local democracy and property rights and weeks of earth tremors, the industry has produced a deep hole in a muddy field with a small amount of very expensive gas at the bottom.
“Over the same period, onshore wind became the cheapest source of power in the UK. The Government responded by effectively banning it.
“It is truly bewildering how little fossil fuel companies need to offer in order to get whole-hearted, full-throated Government support, and how much clean technologies can offer and still be blocked.”