Fracking, Roman baths and a whole lot of methane...


This week controversy has racked the Roman baths at Bath, after Bath and North East Somerset council raised concerns over new plans to grant an exploratory drilling license to UK Methane Ltd. Provisional licenses to begin the search for methane beneath the Mendip Hills has already been awarded by the DECC (Department for Energy and Climate Change), but in a statement the council alleged that little consideration had been given ‘to the potential for damage to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath’.   

At the centre of the controversy is a process known as ‘fracking’: A technique used to extract natural gas by propagating fractures in rock layers through the use of highly pressurised fluids, or explosives. During the 20th century the bulk of the world’s methane production has traditionally been obtained from large scale gas or oil fields, but in recent years companies have turned to more complex methods in order to satisfy rising global demands. These new methods now include the complex capturing and refinement of shale gas, sour gas, tight gas and coalbed methane. After extraction, the gas is piped to refinement centres and purified, before being sold on at wholesale prices to gas and electricity suppliers.

The major concern currently being voiced by the Bath and North East Somerset Council is that the process of exploration and testing could potential damage, or divert, the hot springs beneath the historic Roman Baths. The council claim that exploration of the surrounding hills and springs could potential pollute the waters of the baths or cause serious structural and integral damage to the building.

The baths themselves have existed since 60-70AD and were constructed during the early occupation of Britain, potentially on the orders of the Emperor Claudius. Due to the high content of sodium, sulphate ions and Naegleria fowleri amoeba (a cellular organism that attacks the CNS with an estimated mortality rate of 98%), the waters of the baths are now closed to all visitors for health and safety reasons. Despite not being able to dip into the pre-Roman waters, the bath complex at Bath earns an estimated£34m and receives over 1m visitors a year.