TWO million barrels worth of oil could be lying under the Gwent Levels, an oil executive claimed.

Oil prospectors Sonorex yesterday won permission at a Newport council planning committee meeting to carry out exploratory drilling for oil and gas at a site near the Newport Wetlands.

Managing director David Barker said there could be a couple of million barrels under the earth and is hoping to start work on the £1.5 million project next summer.

If oil or gas is found - and the company believes there is a one in five chance that enough could be found to justify production - there could be a payback for the council in a form of a royalty.

Plans need further permission from the UK Government, but Mr Barker said that this is a formality.

Mr Barker told the Argus: "We wouldn't be looking at it if there wasn't a couple of million barrels, but we may get a dry hole.

"The reality comes when the drill bit goes down. It might be a long time before we can assess volumes."

He admitted there was a four in five chance that there could be nothing there at all.

Mr Barker said that HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) in lieu of business rates, allows for a royalty to be paid to the local authority: "In some areas of the UK its between £2 to £3 a barrel."

If oil is found then extraction wouldn't necessarily take place on the same site, and another planning application for a permanent site would be needed if Sonorex wanted to go ahead.

However Newport Friends of the Earth's David Yates said he was concerned for what would happen if recoverable reserves were found.

"The implications are not only for the local environment but wider climate change implications," he added.

A report to planning committee said the entire project would take six months to complete, from construction, operation to restoration of the site, with drilling taking place over 40 days and in operation 24 hours a day.

Councillor Paul Hannon told the committee meeting that the application couldn't be turned down for what may happen in the future.

Cllr Richard White said as long as planning conditions are adhered to there shouldn't be damage to the environment.

A majority of the committee passed the application.