A  controversial fracking firm is planning to burn waste gas just metres away from nearby homes.

Cuadrilla Resources, the shale oil and gas explorer, has applied for a flaring permit from the Environment Agency when it drills its first exploration well near Balcombe this year.

Furious campaigners claimed the 12-metre-tall tower would pollute the air with “highly toxic” fumes.

But a spokesman for Cuadrilla promised any flaring would be minimal and that the flame would not be visible.

Earlier this year the company commissioned a study to model the impact of flaring on Balcombe and its residents, with the nearest homes lying only 780 metres away.

It conceded that “the Environment Agency may have concerns over the potential impact on local air quality of the flaring”, but said the flaring plans were safe.

But Vanessa Vine, from anti-fracking group Frack Free Sussex, said: “If Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling stage is allowed to go ahead, it will involve very loud flares blowing toxins across the village from flames metres high.”

Fellow Balcombe resident Professor Lawrence Dunne added: “Flare emissions from oil or gas wells are highly toxic and carcinogenic. Flaring should never be allowed near to where people live.”

Fracking involves blasting water and sand at high pressure deep underground to release shale gas.

Moves by Cuadrilla to exploit the fuel in Lancashire were put on hold after hydraulic fracturing caused two small earthquakes in 2011.

However the company has assured Balcombe Parish Council that it will not be using fracking at this stage.

Instead, it plans to drill and take samples of the underground rock in a vertical well 3,000 feet deep.

A spokeswoman for Cuadrilla said: “At Balcombe the target is oil, not gas and therefore we are expecting very small quantities of gas, if any, to require flaring.

“Like all exploration wells, a flare is needed for safety and regulatory reasons.”