MOVES to extract shale gas in the region by fracking have moved a step closer after Government agencies dismissed key arguments of its opponents.

Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith said fears over the controversial extraction method of causing gas to flow out of the ground by injecting sand, water and chemicals into rock had been exaggerated.

Former Culture Secretary Lord Smith said fracking should be allowed in national parks such as the North York Moors, which is among a number of areas in northern England where drilling firms believe there are trillions of cubic feet of shale gas which could be recovered.

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Gas drilling company Dart Energy, which has a licence to explore for shale gas in a large area covering 15,000sq km across the North of England, said in January that it could begin fracking in North Yorkshire in the next two years.

Lord Howell of Guildford, a former energy secretary and father-in-law to George Osborne, sparked controversy last July when he said there was plenty of room for fracking in the "desolate" North-East.

Mr Smith said the visual impact of fracking would be "very limited" if managed correctly in the right location.

He said: “Provided it is done carefully and properly regulated, those fears are definitely exaggerated.

“We aren't yet ready to see 100 per cent of our energy requirements being produced from renewables.

“Over the next ten to 20 years we are going to have to use fossil fuels still and it's much better to use gas than coal.”

Lord Smith's comments came as a Public Health England report concluded the potential risks to

public health in the vicinity of shale gas extraction sites would be low if shale gas

extraction is properly run and regulated.

The report said shale gas exploitation would not pose a significant regulatory challenge

for the protection of local people’s health.

The PHE report stated: "Where potential risks have been identified in the literature, the reported problems are typically a result of operational failure and a poor regulatory environment."

In March, the National Trust and other groups issued a joint report calling for fracking to be banned in national parks.

Opponents said alongside concerns about fracking increasing seismic activity, carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals can be found in the waste water it produces.

A National Trust spokesman said: “Whilst the Government is keen to see rapid roll out of fracking, there’s a real danger that the regulatory system simply isn’t keeping pace."

A Chartered Institute of Environmental Health spokesman said it was important to note the PHE report did not examine the sustainable use of water resources, local environment issues or the impact on communities.