New fears for Bath's hot springs as David Cameron backs fracking
Concerns have been raised that a controversial gas extraction method which has been given the green light by the Government could threaten Bath's world famous hot springs.
David Cameron has put his full support behind "fracking", which he says is the answer to lowering energy prices in the UK, but environmentalists are urging caution.
Although this is a national issue, the local situation is unique because of fears it could have a devastating impact on the city's unique selling point and the very thing Bath is built on – its thermal spa water.
Fracking has been widely used in America and involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure to split rocks and release previously hidden gas.
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Energy company UK Methane wants to drill a test borehole on land at Keynsham to see if gas can be extracted, but its planning application has already attracted almost 750 objections and only one comment of support.
Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council Councillor Paul Crossley is concerned that decisions made by neighbouring local authorities, such as extraction work in the Mendips, could have an impact on the springs.
A council-commissioned study by the British Geological Survey has confirmed that fracking there could damage the springs which supply Bath's spa water.
He said: "We have serious concerns that the process of fracking will leave the water courses leading to the natural hot springs at the mercy of contamination from pollutants resulting from the process. Alternatively, the waters may adopt a different direction of travel in the underlying rocks due to new fractures."
He added: "The damage that could be done by fracking cannot be repaired. The hot springs are a major part of the tourist attraction that sustains around 10,000 jobs in the city and brings in £350 million a year to our area."
Bath MP Don Foster has added his voice to the concerns and said he would continue to fight the plans while there was even a small chance that the city's hot springs could be at risk.
He said: "While uncertainty remains about the potentially damaging impact that shale gas extraction may have on the flow of Bath's hot springs, I continue to oppose proposals that would see hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is known, take place in Bath and the surrounding area."
Energy secretary Ed Davey has tried to reassure people that strict safeguards will be in place to ensure there is no risk of threat to the hot springs.
When questioned by the Chronicle he pointed out that any firm wanting to carry out gas exploration had to get permits from a number of different authorities including his own department, the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and local planning authorities.
He said: "I think people can be reassured there's this strong regulatory regime and one we are making sure is extremely well co-ordinated. That should reassure communities."