DRILLING licences have already been issued for possible fracking underneath huge parts of Hampshire.

Gas companies have been awarded no fewer than eight licences in the south of the county.

The new technology – formally known as hydraulic fracturing – is controversial because it involves blasting underground rock deposits with water, to release trapped pockets of gas.

The alarm has been raised over groundwater contamination and toxic air around sites. In Lancashire, fracking was blamed for causing small earthquakes.

Greenpeace, the environmental group, has mapped the areas covered by licences, using information from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

In the south of Hampshire, they are located: * North of Southampton stretching east from North Baddesley to the A3051 at Fairthorne.

* North of Winchester, from Kings Worthy west almost to Stockbridge.

* Further north, reaching from Chilbolton west to Amport.

* East of Winchester, underneath Hampage Wood.

* Stretching west from Hinton, in the New Forest.

* From east of Fareham, stretching further east.

* East from the Hambledon area (two licences).

It is unlikely that all the sites would be fracked – even if drilling went ahead – because many have the potential to generate conventional gas instead.

The revelations came as Hampshire councillors were denied a chance to vote on a proposal to make the county a fracking-free zone.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Adam Carew had called for the ruling Tories to forbid fracking on council land and oppose it in all parts of the county. He said: “We know you are opposed to wind farms. I think the people of Hampshire have a right to know where you stand on fracking as well.”

But the new council leader Roy Perry said a ban could prejudice future planning applications to drill from oil companies. The county council, as minerals and waste authority, decides planning applications for oil and gas though not wind farms which are decided by district councils.

If permission was refused, oil companies could appeal to the High Court to overturn the decision on the grounds their application had been pre-judged.

The British Geological Survey has mapped potential shale gas reserves around the country and suggested massive gas reserves worth millions of pounds could be hidden beneath Hampshire.

Thousands of jobs could be created if drilling companies believe it is worth trying to extricate the supplies, which have lain buried in tiny holes in rocks for millions of years.

Ray Cobbett, co-ordinator of Hampshire Friends of the Earth, said his organisation was opposed to fracking because of the environmental damage and pollution caused by fracturing rocks with chemicals and high pressure water.

* See the Chronicle next week, May 30, for more on this story.