HAMPSHIRE County Council has been accused of following the Government line on fracking by green campaigners and failing to protect the environment.

Councillors on the environment and transport select committee on November 5 considered the impact of controversial drilling for shale gas.

After a briefing paper from officers, the majority agreed “no action was required by the county council at this time” and “the committee is satisfied that rigorous regulations and controls are in place to manage the potential risks from fracking.”

Fracking - or hydraulic fracturing - involved drilling thousands of feet underground and then pumping in pressurised water and chemicals to crack the rocks below and release trapped pockets of gas.

The briefing paper outlined concerns, including pollution of groundwater, chemical spills, methane emissions and “small earthquakes.”

But officers said the Environment Agency would monitor water quality, methane escape and seismic activity - and had the power to shut down wells if problems developed.

Meanwhile benefits include reduced gas imports, lower energy prices and bridging the gap for the development of renewable energy sources.

Local communities also may benefit with £100,000 paid for each well.

Licenses for exploratory drilling have already been granted in parts of Hampshire, including north of Winchester between Kings Worthy and Stockbridge, north of Southampton, stretching east from North Baddesley to Swanwick, Hambledon and Hinton in the New Forest.

However the county council, Southampton City Council, South Downs and New Forest National Park Authorities still need to give planning permission before exploratory drilling can start at specific sites.

Chairman Cllr Sharyn Wheale said: “Most of us had fears the same as our residents but I think we are now a lot more informed than our residents and hopefully can give them confidence.”

Cllr Wheale said they would send a message to the full council that “continuous monitoring and regulations” would deal with environmental issues.

But the committee's conclusion drew a rebuke from Ray Cobbett, co-ordinator of Hampshire Friends of the Earth, who accused the council of “simply echoing the Government line and not taking a strong enough stand to safeguard Hampshire's environment.”

He said: “It is disappointing. To say that controls are set up is frankly nonsense because nobody knows who well they will work. We have never had fracking in Britain on an industrial scale.”

Hampshire Minerals and Waste Plan, which was recently adopted, supports oil and gas development if the need outweighs the impact on the environment and local amenity.