GLOUCESTERSHIRE County Council could make millions if they support a controversial policy to allow shale gas schemes such as fracking in the county.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that shale gas exploration is part of his long-term economic plan and says local authorities that allow drilling would receive all the business rates collected from such schemes - rather than the usual 50 per cent.

Whitehall officials estimate that each council which agrees could make a profit of £1.7m extra a year for each site.

Opponents to fracking, such as leading European Green Party candidate and Stroud district councillor Molly Scott Cato, have likened the promise of tax incentives for councils to bribery.

“The government is now resorting to effectively bribing local residents in a desperate attempt to impose fracking on our communities.

“The Green Party is now the only major political party opposed to this greedy dash for gas.

“However much money is offered, the facts are clear, fracking won't bring down energy prices, produce many jobs or solve our energy crisis.

“Instead we need investment in clean renewable energy and energy-efficiency schemes so that we confront climate change and reduce people's energy bills.”

Gloucestershire has been identified as an area under consideration for fracking – a process which involves drilling deep underground and pumping water and chemicals at high pressure to create fractures in the rock which release the gas.

Alan Bently, acting strategic development manager at Gloucestershire County Council, said currently there are no planning applications for fracking in the county.

“If an application were to be received, we would validate it, publicise it, and carry out a statutory consultation. A report would then be presented to our Planning Committee where a decision would be made.”

Campaign group Frack Free Five Valleys recently formed to raise awareness of the threat of unconventional gas exploration, such as fracking, in the area surrounding Stroud.

According to Anna Dunne, one of the groups founding members, the Government has outlined roughly 60 percent of the UK to fracking companies – including the whole of the Cotswolds.

“Our aim is to try and stop any licences for fracking being sold in the Five Valleys,” she said.

Members of the group staged a peaceful protest in Stroud high street on Friday and have also organised a public meeting at Lansdown Hall at 7.30pm on Sunday, January 26 to dicuss the threat of fracking to the Cotswolds. Stroud MP Neil Carmichael said he was not in favour of fracking in inappropriate places.

“However we do have to find ways of getting our energy supply more affordably as at the end of the day there are a lot of people in Stroud living in fuel poverty and we have a responsibility to explore every possible avenue,” he said.

“The scheme offered by the Government is not a bribe but a reality of localism.”