Flood concern raised over fracking
Concerns have been raised over the risks of giving "fracking" the go-ahead in flood-prone areas of the UK, as parts of the country face continued flooding.
Greenpeace said licences had been given to companies to potentially drill for shale gas and oil in some of the areas of Somerset that have been hit by flooding.
Government planning guidance shows it will consider applications to drill in areas which are at risk of floods, potentially leaving flood-hit communities facing leaks and pollution from fracking operations, the green group claimed.
Fracking operations in Colorado, in the US, were hit by major flooding last year, with a number of notable leaks reported, Greenpeace added.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping liquid made up of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure down into rock to fracture it and release gas.
Shale gas exploration is backed by the Government, which claims it will boost jobs, create more secure energy supplies and even cut fuel bills.
But opponents fear fracking for gas and oil will damage the countryside, could pollute water supplies and make it harder to cut emissions to tackle climate change.
Greenpeace's chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, said: "If fracking had already gone ahead in some of the licensed areas in Somerset, flood-hit communities could now have more to worry about than just high water.
"Broken equipment, leaking wells and spillages of chemicals or waste water could all represent a risk to public health and our natural environment in the event of a major flood.
"The Government's policy of granting fracking licences in areas at risk of flooding throws caution to the wind.
"Fracking evangelists at the heart of government must be confronted with all of the risks of pursuing shale gas expansion in our countryside."
There are no licences for the worst-hit area, in the Somerset Levels, but places such as Keynsham, near Bath, which has also experienced flooding, are in areas covered by onshore oil and gas licences.
A bid by UK Methane to drill in Keynsham was put on hold last year, amid local opposition, but Greenpeace claimed the company was expected to resubmit its plans for a fracking site to exploit coal bed methane there.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) spokeswoman said: "The UK has been safely regulating onshore drilling in the UK for over eighty years. We have a robust range of regulations in place.
"The environmental regulator will assess flood risk where it is a significant risk to a site, and their assessment would be considered by the local planning authority before granting planning permission. The regulator can also add conditions on the site's environmental permit to ensure that flood risk is managed appropriately."