A Perth company's plan to search for gas in a Mid West nature reserve has sparked protests over danger to the area's fragile cave formations.
Norwest Energy wants to conduct seismic surveys near Leeman, about 250km north of Perth, in a move that could lead to hydraulic fracturing - fracking - there.
Fracking involves drilling wells vertically and often horizontally thousands of metres before using water, sand and chemicals to release "unconventional" gas resources such as tight gas and shale gas.
In documents lodged with WA's environmental watchdog, consultants for Norwest said part of the proposal would involve surveying Beekeepers Nature Reserve.
Though consultants Strategen said the plan would affect only vegetation and potentially some native animals, environmentalists warned the implications could be much worse.
The Conservation Council of WA said the area was full of little-known but spectacular caves that could be damaged if fracking was allowed.
In a submission to the Environmental Protection Authority, council director Piers Verstegen said the plan also posed threats to the nature reserve's biodiversity and should not be allowed.
"The area is … situated above extremely rare and fragile Karst systems and an extensive network of underground caves, many of which have not been mapped and are unknown to the Department of Parks and Wildlife," Mr Verstegen said.
"These areas are highly sensitive to ground disturbance."
Strategen said Norwest was not proposing to drill wells but only wanted to map the area seismically - a process involving clearing up to 250ha of native vegetation.
It said the proposal would expand on a nearby existing shale gas exploration well, known as Arrowsmith 2.
"One of the key objectives of the survey is to define the location and form of the Beagle Fault, which is located near the eastern boundary of Beekeepers Nature Reserve," Strategen's report said.
"There is no intention to conduct drilling within the nature reserve.
"The survey will assist Norwest in ensuring future wells are drilled in locations that minimise the risk of intersecting this fault system."