MINISTERS have been accused of using parliamentary procedures to allow fracking in national parks “by the backdoor”.
Opponents of the controversial mining method said regulations due to be voted on by MPs today would allow it to be used in some of Britain’s most precious landscapes.
Under the rules, companies would not be allowed to have drilling sites in protected areas but could set up on the edge and then access gas reserves horizontally.
The rules are going through parliament as a statutory instrument, rather than legislation, meaning there will not be a full debate in the Commons chamber.
The Government has previously promised to protect national parks and other sensitive areas from fracking.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “The Government’s decision to sneak through a huge change to allow fracking in our National Parks without a proper debate is outrageous.
“They have shown their true colours and complete lack of regard for protecting some of the most beautifully scenery in the UK and its wildlife.
“It is tantamount to vandalism to not recognise that some areas simply must be protected from fracking so they can be enjoyed by future generations.
“The Liberal Democrats protected National Parks and important wildlife sites from fracking while in Government, and have consistently taken a cautious approach to fracking.
“There are some sites where fracking should be banned in all circumstances.
“Our priority is to make sure this happens and to focus on how Britain can best deliver a low-carbon future to tackle climate change.”
The criticism was echoed by Labour.
Shadow Energy Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Rather than addressing public concerns over fracking Ministers are using a Parliamentary backdoor to put through these weak regulations without a proper debate.
“Fracking should not go ahead in Britain until stronger safeguards are in place to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks.”
Fracking involves the pumping of sand, water and some chemicals at high pressure into underground rock formations to free trapped gas.
Critics argue it poses major risks to the environment but the Government and energy firms insist it can be carried out safely and be a valuable energy source.
Hannah Martin, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “It’s not even a year since the government promised to ban fracking in National Parks.
“Now it’s trying to pull a fast one through an arcane parliamentary process by hawking out the land beneath our most beautiful landscapes to let fracking companies drill sideways deep beneath them.
“It’s not only disingenuous, but it’s damaging for our countryside and it’s damaging for the environment.