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For a site symbolizing a future that will either poison our countryside or bring us unlimited amounts of cheap, pollution-free energy, Elswick, in northeast England, is a distinctly underwhelming destination for a visit. The gas-power station, owned by the U.K. drilling company Cuadrilla, lies in the Fylde area of the county of Lancashire and consists of a large square of cleared ground, a few cabins and some metal pipes. For most of the week, the site — surrounded by farmland — is unmanned.

Yet according to Cuadrilla, Elswick is a model for the kind of energy plants it will set up on several Lancashire sites once it has completed test drills involving the hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — of underground shale beds in the area. The reserves of natural gas found this way would then be pumped up to stations like Elswick. At present, natural gas from about 1,000 meters underground is brought to the surface here. It is then burned on site to generate about a megawatt of electricity for local homes.

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