FEARS that fracking in East Lancashire has secretly started have surfaced on social media after hi-tech ground monitoring equipment was sighted on open land.

One tweet warned shale gas extraction was under way between Accrington and Huncoat while another post accused the landowner of illegally installing electric fences.

The owners of the specialist seismic monitoring equipment United Utilities have been quick to explain that online conspiracy theorists were wrong.

The machinery is being used to investigate land earmarked for the repair and refurbishment of the Haweswater Aqueduct, the North-West's biggest water pipe, over the next 10 years.

The team of geotechnical engineers were carrying out investigations along the route at Peel Park and the Coppice between Accrington and Huncoat when their equipment was spotted.

One Twitter user posted: "We have frackers on the Coppice folks.

"Just been up there to find a shed load of these little blighters across the back end fence at the motorway.

"Either they are looking to frack on the Coppice, testing to find weak spots in the rock or they have started to frack again somewhere else and are measuring the affects.

"You council are absolute tin pots, when did they ask your permission to install this corporate garbage on our hill."

Chris Tighe, UU's project coordinator, said: “We’re using seismic monitoring equipment at the surface and we’re also drilling down to build up a picture of the ground conditions around the pipeline.

"Some of the kit is carried in large vehicles and it’s understandable that people want to know what is happening.

“We have written to residents in the local area but one or two people seem to have their own version of events. The truth is much less controversial!”

The surveys are being carried out along the route of the 1950's pipeline which brings water from the Lake District into Lancashire and Manchester. Further investigation sites include The Hollow in Hyndburn and The Halo and Fletcher Bank Quarry in Rossendale.

UU's director of strategic programmes Neil Gillespie said: “The Haweswater Aqueduct is one of the arteries of the North West’s water supply system and a project of this scale takes a lot of planning. That’s why our survey teams will be out and about this year."