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Fracking in Mendips ‘may threaten Bath hot springs’

Bath and North-East Somerset council fears contamination of world-famous tourist spot if shale gas extraction goes ahead

Concerns were raised on Wednesday that the controversial process of extracting gas from underground could pose a threat to Bath’s world famous hot springs.

Bath and North-East Somerset council fears test drilling in the Mendip hills could lead to exploitation of shale gas resources through “fracking“, which the local authority warns could harm the springs.

The council said two companies were applying to Mendip district council for permission to test drill for the gas, which is found in shale formed from deposits of mud, silt, clay and organic matter. It is extracted by drilling down into the ground and then by “fracking”, a process of hydraulic fracturing of the shale using high pressure liquid to release the gas.

But councillors in Bath fear the water courses which supply the springs in the World Heritage city could be contaminated by the process, or that water could change direction through new fractures in the rock.

The process has proved controversial in the US, where shale gas is already being exploited on a large scale, because the drilling process involves chemicals, including cancer-causing compounds, which can pollute water supplies.

And there are claims that the gas itself can pollute drinking water, with footage of people able to set fire to the water coming out of their taps.

Bath and North-East Somerset council leader Paul Crossley said: “Bath and North-East Somerset council has obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest that any thought has been given to the potential for damage to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath.

“Given the fact the hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city, the council must stand up against these drilling proposals in the strongest possible terms.”

Currently, the County of Avon Act requires council consent for amy excavation below certain depths, and the council wants tighter controls over potentially damaging activities near the hot springs.

The controls currently do not cover activities outside specific geographical areas, including the Mendip district council area.

Crossley said: “Understandably the act approved by Parliament in 1982 didn’t foresee the levels of protection required to protect the hot springs from fracking.

“This leaves these ancient waters at the mercy of another local authority’s planning processes, the protection of which they are not duty-bound to consider when coming to a decision.”

He has written to government ministers, the leader of Mendip District Council, local MPs and English Heritage warning of the potential damage to Bath’s springs.

The city is most famous for the bath complex developed by the Romans and the architecture associated with its place as a “spa” destination in Georgian times.

The council said the direct income from the baths was about £34m a year, while the wider tourist industry brought in £348m to the area annually.

Last week Cuadrilla, a company exploring for shale gas in Lancashire, said it had discovered significant resources, which could see 400 to 800 wells drilled in the area. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds