OIL and gas drilling would be “railroaded” through against the wishes of residents if Conservative manifesto pledges come into law, environmentalists have warned.

Friends of the Earth have warned eight Sussex constituencies could be affected by Tory proposals to remove the need for a planning application to allow non-fracking drilling.

The environmental campaigners are also critical of plans which could take decisions on fracking applications away from accountable locally elected councils and hand it to the Planning Inspectorate.

The warning comes as controversial drilling has begun this week in the Sussex countryside.

UK Oil and Gas Investments have begun drilling a 1,900 metre deep well at Broadford Bridge near Horsham.

If successful, the company said it would confirm the presence of a “significant continuous oil deposit” straddling the entire central area of the Weald Basin from Broadford Bridge to Horse Hill, otherwise known as the Gatwick Gusher which UK-OG believes could hold up to 100 billion barrels of oil.

Caroline Fife has warned that chemicals used in the process could damage residents, animals and the environment.

The Labour Parliamentary candidate for Arundel and South Downs said the drilling should be stopped and called for a robust planning process over such applications.

Analysis by Friends of the Earth of the latest onshore oil and gas licences reveals that Sussex constituencies Arundel and South Downs, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Chichester, Horsham, Lewes, Mid Sussex, Wealden and Crawley could all be affected by a change in the law.

Under Tory manifesto plans, non-fracking drilling could take place under permitted development rights, previously used for minor planning applications and change of uses, meaning residents would not have an opportunity to object.

A recent application by UK-OG for four oil wells at Markwells Wood near Chichester attracted more than 2,000 objectors before being withdrawn.

The Conservatives also propose major full-scale fracking applications could be determined by the Planning Inspectorate rather than the local authority.

Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth South East campaigner, said: “All the applications we are seeing in Sussex are counted as ‘non fracking drilling’ now.

“Fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas production from under our precious countryside should be banished to the dustbin of history – not least because it is completely incompatible with stopping climate change. Instead, the Conservatives are proposing to railroad it through against the wishes of local people and the wider public.”

Greg Mountain, Labour candidate in Mid Sussex, described the proposals as anti-democratic and accused the Conservatives of putting profits ahead of the environment or residents.

He said: “Yet again the Conservatives want to override the views of local people.

“The Labour Party will ban ‘fracking’. It is inappropriate in Britain, this is not the USA.

Along with local Labour Party members I campaigned against fracking in Balcombe before other parties knew Balcombe existed.

“Voters everywhere now have the opportunity on June 8 to stop fracking, I hope they seize the chance.”

The Conservatives have also pledged to pay shale revenue from a sovereign wealth fund directly to individuals as well as for the benefit of the country at large.

Streamlining the drilling planning process has been described as a game changer for the fracking industry.