To ask Her Majesty’s Government when hydraulic fracturing for natural gas begins in the north Somerset coal-field and the Mendip Hills; what safeguards will be enforced to prevent contamination of (1) the Bath hot springs, (2) the Cheddar Gorge caves and underground water-courses, and (3) all other local water supplies; and who will be responsible for such safeguards.
There are no current proposals for hydraulic fracturing operations in the areas of Bath or the Cheddar Gorge.
Planning applications for onshore oil and gas development (including shale gas) must be subject to consultation with the local community and with relevant statutory consultation bodies such as the Environment Agency before the mineral planning authority takes a decision. Any decision must take account of all relevant planning issues. In this context, the National Planning Policy Framework states that, when considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should give great weight to the asset’s conservation.
The National Policy Framework also advises that any proposed development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest, such as Cheddar Gorge, should not normally be permitted if it is likely to have an adverse effect on the Site (either individually or in combination with other developments).
I can also confirm that there are other regulatory controls which would need to be satisfied if any application for oil and gas development received planning permission. There are administered by the Environment Agency, the HSE and the Department. These controls will ensure that all prospective threats to the environment, or to safety, are effectively controlled. In particular, the Environment Agency will not permit any activity which might pose a threat to groundwater.