FIRMS could be allowed to search beneath Swindon for oil and gas as part of Government plans to expand fracking.

For the first time in six years the Government will be asking businesses to apply for licenses to search for and extract onshore oil and gas.

Should the license be granted, it would give permission for firms to use the controversial process of fracking to extract the resources from the ground.

Fracking involves using pressurised liquid to fracture rock and free the gas or oil from the ground, but it has been associated with causing earthquakes and other environmental issues.

The news that the process could one day be used in the town itself has come as a concern to Talis Kimberley, a member of the Swindon Area Green Party.

She said: “When I think that this could come to the edge of my community I worry for the water supply, for the ground beneath my feet and for the future of the environment around us.

“If it comes here there will be no dawn chorus, it is so loud.

“If we want our green and pleasant land to stay green and pleasant then we cannot let fracking come here.

“It drives me to tears that there are so many barriers to building a solar farm that is proven to provide safe, clean and renewable energy and yet fracking could so easily be put in place.

“Fracking threatens our communities with earthquakes, toxic groundwater, noise, and pollution.

“The industry's record is not good. Other countries' experience has not been reassuring, and France, for example, has banned these technologies.

“All this for a few decades’ worth of fuel whose burning tips us further into climate change? And what do we burn then? There are other resources there for us, and we need to find the will to make the changes we need, the sooner the better.”

Businesses interested in exploring the local area will have to follow a special set of application procedures before any work is carried out, and ministers have also announced that national parks and other areas of important countryside will be protected from the process.

But the MP for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson, said that exploring the principle of onshore oil and gas extraction is necessary if the Government is to ensure the lights stay on.

He said: “There are no applications for licence for Swindon and the rules which will govern them are very strong. The UK though is right to explore fracking and it has the potential to secure our long-term energy security and crucially drive our energy bills down.

“We simply cannot afford to bury our heads if we want to avoid future power-outs.”