Massive 'franking' gas extraction bid for Mendip Hills
It has been accused of causing earthquakes, explosions, pollution, and even making tap water flammable.
Now the controversial gas extraction process known as 'fracking' could be coming to the Mendip Hills.
An oil and gas exploration company says there are significant reserves of natural shale gas under the Mendips.
During fracking, chemically-laced water is pumped underground to release vast quantities of natural shale gas.
Prime sites for gas extraction include coalfields and areas of oil bearing rock.
Australian company Eden Energy and Port Talbot-based UK Methane have been carrying out experimental work on a vast tract of land stretching from Priddy to Bath searching for oil and gas.
The two firms were granted the right in 2008 to search for oil and gas across 700 square kilometres for six years on and around the Mendips by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
An Irish company, Reservoir Resources has the rights to explore around Wells and Wookey Hole.
Eden Energy's prospects have been boosted after a Government inquiry found no evidence that fracking poses a direct risk to underground water supplies, provided the drilling well is constructed properly.
This has been disputed by environmentalists who claim that recent small earthquakes in Blackpool have been caused by fracking.
The government backs shale gas extraction as a means of making the country self-sufficient in gas.
Gregory Solomon, chairman of Eden, said last week: "This could well become a truly enormous project.
"All we have to do is show that we can get the gas out of the ground, which we are confident that we will be able to do."
Eden commissioned two independent expert reports in respect to the prospects of some of its UK gas assets taking in very large portions of the coal fields and surrounding basins .
The experts have now said that they have identified significant prospective resources of shale gas and coal bed methane on Eden Energy's UK licences in Somerset.
The firm has the option of pumping out any oil or gas they find themselves, or selling the concessions to other firms.
Eden Energy would need Government authorisation to drill wells, install facilities or produce hydrocarbons, while buildings need local planning permission.
Despite fears raised about the gas extraction process the Government's Energy and Climate Change Committee concluded that there is no need to slow exploration work.
The MPs have urged the Department of Energy and Climate Change to monitor drilling activity extremely closely in its early stages in order to assess its impact on air and water quality.
Tim Yeo MP, chairman of the committee, said: "There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk.
"There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.
Wells MP Tessa Munt was much more concerned about the possibility of fracking being carried out in Somerset. She said: "There has to be a lot more information about this process before it went ahead. I would urge caution, caution, caution. There would have to be a very good reason to go ahead with it."
Nigel Taylor, Somerset parishes representative for the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, said: I would have extreme reservations about the Mendips becoming a prospecting area. There are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, archeological sites and natural history to consider.
"There must be no destruction of the environment, and I would be concerned about aquifers, limestone and the effect it could have on the water table. We have to have regulations in place now. There is no point in expecting the industry to self-police."
Shale gas extraction could reduce the UK's dependence on imported gas, but it is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on domestic gas prices, according to the report.
Mr Yeo said: "It is understandable that environmentalists have concerns about methane emissions from shale gas after YouTube videos from the US apparently showed people setting fire to tap water.
"Regulations in the UK are stronger than in the States and should stop anything of the sort from happening here."