CAMPAIGNERS against plans frack on Salisbury Plain have criticised a councillor who said the process was “not dissimilar” to conventional oil drilling in Hampshire and Dorset.

Members of Keep Wiltshire Frack Free (KWIFF) were “very disappointed” when Stuart Wheeler, a member of Wiltshire Council’s cabinet, made the comment at County Hall last Tuesday.

A spokesman for the group said the “completely erroneous” remark “highlights the level of education that is required if those involved in planning in the onshore oil and gas sector such as Mr Wheeler can be so far off the mark.”

It said: “Multiple unconventional gas wells will be required every kilometre or so to turn a profit, unlike the single sites he mentioned.

“West Wiltshire could potentially see hundreds, maybe thousands of wells drilled.

“Each well would require numerous HGV movements bringing out massive volumes of waste water contaminated with carcinogenic substances, along with HGVs bringing in water and chemicals for hydraulic fracturing.”

Speaking to the Journal on Tuesday, Mr Wheeler said he worked for drilling company Amoco, now part of BP, during the 1980s, when it struck oil four miles north of Winchester.

He said: “I don’t agree with the doomsday scenario put forward by the anti-fracking campaigners.”

Mr Wheeler did agree that the two processes were “not entirely similar” but said the campaigners were exaggerating the number of drilling points needed, as modern technology allowed drilling in multiple directions from a single drill head.

He said: “I would be very interested if we could develop an industry in this country that means we are not reliant on Russia for gas supplies.”

At last week’s meeting, Wiltshire Council agreed to Councillor Jeff Osborn’s suggestion that the overview and scrutiny management committee should look more deeply into fracking, or “unconventional gas exploitation”.

KWIFF welcomed the council’s plans to seek input from all sides of the debate and called for "strong leadership and transparency.”

A petition with more than 850 Wiltshire signatures and 88,000 signatures worldwide was presented at the meeting.