A COMPANY whose drilling activities are believed to have caused an earthquake in Lancashire has been given a licence to drill in Sussex.

An area running from across a swathe of West Sussex countryside has been flagged as a potential area to drill for shale gas.

The target area includes Mannings Heath and Lower Beeding, near Horsham, to Haywards Heath, Lindfield, part of Burgess Hill, North Chailey, and up to Horsted Keynes and Handcross.

Independent energy company Cuadrilla has received planning permission and regulatory approval to start exploratory drilling for shale gas in Lower Stumble, Balcombe, near Haywards Heath, which is close to the railway line.

But under the licence terms Cuadrilla is not obliged to publicly disclose its findings on the commercial potential for gas production in the test areas until 2015.

The company says it has no plans to begin using the controversial fracking technique at this stage.

Fracking breaks up rock which contains natural gas deposits which cannot be easily extracted.

Brian Hall, an Independent councillor on West Sussex County and Haywards Heath Town councils, said an independent report concluded it was highly probable that the fracking at Preese Hall-1 well, in Lancashire, led to earthquakes. The British Geological Survey seismographs recorded earthquakes on April 1 and May 27.

Coun Hall has asked the county council to clarify the current planning and operational position of drilling activities in West Sussex.

He said: “My main concern is the potential for contamination of water supplies.

“We are in a very densely populated area and the use of fracking technology has resulted in serious contamination of water supplies overseas. I will be monitoring the responses of the authorities and I will be calling for a full assessment of risks associated with these activities at both national and local level.”

A Cuadrilla spokesman said: “Exploratory drilling activity may take place at a future date, consistent with the terms of the licence issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

“The initial drilling for the core sampling and evaluation would last for a few weeks.

“There are no plans, or regulatory approval, for hydraulic fracturing to take place at this stage.”