PLANS for fracking to take place in the Stroud district have moved a step closer after the government issued a licence for drilling in the area.

A consultation over the plans was launched in the summer by the government with the plans criticised at the time.

Now a licence has been formally offered to South Western Energy Limited to drill within an area which includes Sharpness and many of its surrounding villages.

The announcement was made by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) yesterday (Thursday) as it offered 159 'blocks' across the country to energy firms in its 14th round of licensing.

OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “I am pleased that the 14th onshore sound attracted strong interest and a high quality of proposed work programmes.

"This round enables a significant amount of the UK’s shale prospects to be taken forward to be explored and tested.

“Upon acceptance of these offers, applicants will be issued with licences and will be able to begin planning their future strategies for exploration activities. These will be subject to further local planning, safety, environmental and other authorisations.”

"The licences offered today move us a step closer - driving forwards this industry which will provide secure, home grown energy to hardworking families and businesses for decades to come.

“Alongside conventional drilling sites, we need to get shale gas moving. As the Task Force for Shale Gas report found earlier this week, with the right standards in place fracking can take place safely.

"Now is the time to press ahead and get exploration underway so that we can determine how much shale gas there is and how much we can use."

The controversial practice, which involves drilling into the earth to release gas inside rocks, is intended to help reduce energy bills but many are concerned about its impact on the environment.

Jojo Mehta, from Frack Free Five Valleys, said: "The specific and unusual geology of this area, including watercourses around and beneath the Severn and the Forest of Dean, make drilling here absurdly risky. 

"Any applications to drill here will be met with fierce opposition.

"To issue these licences, especially now, is a climate crime in itself and negates everything Paris was supposed to be about. 

"This government is determined to push ahead with fracking in the face of the cumulative evidence of significant harm to environment and communities in places where this industry has gone ahead."