An energy firm is planning to drill into coal reserves near Keynsham to look for untapped methane gas.
UK Methane has said it will apply for planning permission in October for a small test rig on land close to the Hicks Gate roundabout.
It would entail three months of exploratory drilling, with a year’s evaluation to assess the viability of making it a production site.
But campaigners are concerned about the process known as “fracking”, which involves hydraulic fracturing – pumping high-pressure fluid into rocks to create passages through which gas can pass.
Rachel Greenwood, from the Bristol Rising Tide group, wrote on its website: “We don’t want our water to be polluted. Once fracking takes place, contamination of land and water, and the devastation of local ecosystems, is inevitable. You cannot do it safely.”
Meanwhile, a petition has been launched by Laura Corfield, of Transition Keynsham, which will be sent to Bath and North East Somerset Council and Keynsham Town Council. Launched this week, the petition already has more than 300 signatures.
Ms Corfield said UK Methane, which holds the Petroleum Exploration Development Licence for the Keynsham area, has requested a meeting with Transition Keynsham to discuss their proposal.
The Frack Free Keynsham & Saltford campaign also claims the extraction of gas found in coal seams can lead to contamination of water and land, including agricultural land, as well as “destroying surrounding areas of countryside by creating an industrial landscape”.
But North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose constituency contains the area in question, said: “My view is that it is potentially an extremely exciting and cheap source of energy, which is well worth looking into.
“There is the caveat about the Bath hot springs – if there is a risk to the Bath hot springs, we obviously shouldn’t do it. Whether there is any evidence that fracking in Keynsham would have an impact, I am not sure.”
Bath’s Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster fears that fracking could affect the springs, one of the city’s most famous attrations.
However, UK Methane director Gerwyn Williams told the BBC the process was already used safely worldwide.
He said the firm would be giving presentations about the scheme in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, a woman from Bristol Rising Tide has been convicted of failing to leave land when directed to do so, after she climbed onto a drilling rig in a protest against fracking last December.
She was fined £250, plus £750 costs, after being found guilty at Preston Magistrates’ Court. Two other defendants were cleared of aggravated trespass at Cuadrilla Resource’s Hesketh Bank site, Lancashire, which protestors caused to be shut down for 13 hours.