FRACKING in Wiltshire could be one step closer after four locations in the county were approved licences – meaning companies will have the sole right to drill in the area if they are granted permission.

The four areas, including Warminster, Trowbridge, Westbury and Chitterne and Erlestoke, could be used for the extraction of coal bed methane following a review by the government and a Habitats Regulations Assessment.

The Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDL) for Wiltshire have now been offered to South Western Energy Limited.

The announcement comes after MPs voted in favour of drilling under national parks and other protected areas last week, meaning places such as the White Horse in Westbury could be drilled under.

Councillor Jeff Osborn said: “The long and short of it is the government are still pushing ahead with it even though there is a strong case made against it.

"The Government are committed to it and it seems to be a number one national policy.

“I think the process was an absolute shambles as a strong case was made that it really wasn’t suitable due to the geology and water in the area.

“I’m going to put a notice of motion forward to full council, probably in February, that we are opposed and our default position would be opposition to it.”

The controversial process, which involves drilling into the earth, would be the first within Wiltshire and a number of groups in the area, including Keep Wiltshire Frack Free and the Warminster Anti-Fracking Community, have campaigned and petitioned against fracking.

A Wiltshire Council spokesman said: “The Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) has announced that 93 licences for a total of 159 blocks were formally offered to successful applicants under the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round.

"In Wiltshire, four blocks have been approved for licenses covering block areas: ST84 – Warminster/Longleat, ST85 – Trowbridge/Westbury; ST94 – Chitterne/Imber Range; ST95 – Erlestoke.

“The award of a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDLs) does not automatically give permission for operations to begin. Before the licensee can begin any operations they must apply for and be granted a number of further permissions and consents.

“These include planning permissions, environmental permits from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive scrutiny of well designs, and further consent for drilling operations from the OGA. We have had no planning applications or pre-application consultation from the licensees to date.”