THE public inquiry into last year's refusal of planning permission for 'fracking' near Blackpool starts today with its East Lancashire opponents warning overturning the decision could 'open the floodgates' for the controversial process.

In June last year Lancashire County Council's development control committee blocked bids to start drilling for shale gas at two sites on the Fylde coast, Little Plumpton and Roseacre.

Exploration firm Cuadrilla has appealed the refusals taken on grounds of noise, visual impact and traffic.

Today government inspector Wendy McKay will start a five week inquiry into the issue but the final decision will be taken by Local Government Secretary Greg Clark.

It is a decision seen as having national significance with Friends of the Earth giving evidence opposing drilling.

When the inquiry starts this morning at Blackpool Football Club a delegation from Keep East Lancashire Frack Free (KELFF) will be outside to register their opposition.

David Penney, KELFF spokesman will give evidence next month expressing fears that the process could extend to the M65 corridor from the north of Blackburn through to Burnley, Nelson and Colne and down the Rossendale Valley.

The area has been identified as sitting on reserves of shale gas and seven blocks of land have been licensed for exploration by companies, subject to planning permission.

Mr Penney said: "We will be outside the inquiry today making our opposition clear and I shall be giving evidence on March 10.

"If Mr Clark over-rules local democracy and approves these applications it will open the floodgates for fracking across East Lancashire.

"The government has made clear it believes fracking to be a matter of national significance and companies like Osprey and Celtique have licenses and are ready to move in.

"If the applications are approved by Mr Clark we will appeal it to the High Court and Europe and if necessary engage in peaceful civil disobedience to stop fracking."

Oscar nominated actor Mark Ruffalo yesterday called on the Prime Minister to abandon fracking and leave fossil fuels in the ground.

A prominent opponent of fracking in the US, Ruffalo warned David Cameron he was making 'a legacy mistake' in supporting the controversial process.

Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “We believe we have a strong case for appeal and see this is a natural step in the democratic process for deciding any planning application.

"I am confident that we will demonstrate to Lancashire and the UK that shale gas exploration and fracking is not only safe but represents a very real opportunity to create jobs, fuel businesses, heat UK homes and stimulate significant local economic growth.”