Industry

Council tried to buy drilling licences to stop fracking around World Heritage Site

A local council tried to buy petroleum drilling licences to prevent fracking around a World Heritage Site. But the government refused to let it bid in the latest selling round.

Bath and North East Somerset Council is concerned that fracking for shale gas could affect the famous springs and the Roman baths, which provide millions of pounds of revenue.

Three PEDL licences around Bath were included in the government’s 14th licensing round, which closes at 2pm today. Council leader, Paul Crossley, told a shale gas conference yesterday that the authority asked if it could buy them. But he said the Department of Energy and Climate Change would not accept a bid from a council.

Bath is the only place in Britain with hot springs that reach a temperature of 44-46 degrees C. Mr Crossley said annually the springs contribute £5m to the council budget and an income of £92m to the region. A new spa in the city has generated an additional annual income of £14m, he said.

Some of the spring water comes to the surface in Bath up a natural fracture. (The rest is through a new borehole). Local regulations and an act of parliament seek to prevent any disruption to this process.

Earlier this year, UK Methane held four licences in the Bath area: PEDL 225, 226, 227 and 228. All were granted in 2008. The company got a one year extension to PEDL 227 but the other licences expired and have been added to the 14th round, Mr Crossley said.

A survey for the council by the British Geological Survey said that extraction of coal bed methane would not threaten the springs because CBM occurs above the source of the spring water. But the BGS concluded that high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale “would present a potential risk to the springs as the targets are close to the strata housing the spring water”.

Mr Crossley said: “We are concerned that [with fracking] the water goes on a different journey, bypasses Bath and destroys our economy”.

He said there were also concerns about the effect off any diversion of water on Bath’s Georgian buildings. “We know water leaks”, Mr Crossley said. “Georgian Bath is very damp. Georgian buildings do not have footings.” If the water is diverted and the land dries out, the buildings could be damaged.

The council does not oppose fracking for shale gas on principle, he said. “We think it should be done where it is appropriate. The spa and Roman baths are important to the world, not just Bath and North East Somerset. This is something we hold in treasure for the world.”

Councillors in Bath are now keeping their fingers crossed that no one has bid for the three licences in the area.

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