FRACKING campaigners have reacted with outrage after the Government announced firms would be allowed to drill horizontally under national parks to pursue the controversial energy production method.

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said while hydraulic fracturing would not be permitted inside the park, fracking operations could be launched outside the boundaries of protected areas such as the North York Moors National Park, under which there is believed to be large shale gas reserves.

Under draft regulations set out by by Department for Energy and Climate Change, fracking will also be allowed to take place 1,200 metres below areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Howardian Hills, near Thirsk, and UN World Heritage Sites.

Mrs Leadsom said the UK had one of the world's best track records for environmental protection while developing industries, and there was a pressing need for more secure domestic energy supplies.

A British Geological Survey has revealed the potential for huge shale gas deposits under rural areas of North Yorkshire, County Durham and Northumberland.

The North York Moors National Park Authority said while it had been suggested there were large reserves 1,500 and 4,000 metres below the surface of the protected area, there had not been any commercial interest in fracking within its boundaries to date.

The announcement comes days after it was announced the Government would not hold a public inquiry over plans for a £1.7bn potash mine in the park, near Whitby, which campaigners claim will despoil its landscapes.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, whose constituency includes the national park, said horizontal drilling would not damage the sensitive landscape while planning law would safeguard gateways to the park from becoming industrialised.

He said: "We won't see a ring of steel around the park."

Frack Free North Yorkshire campaigners said the Government's announcement was "a huge blow for the villages and countryside of North Yorkshire".

A spokesman for the group said: "There is now the very real prospect that the North York Moors National Park and the Howardian Hills will be ringed by dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of fracking wells, which will be allowed to drill horizontally under them."

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Rose Dickinson added: “It is outrageous that the Government has given the green light to fracking under national parks and appears to be doing nothing to stop fracking in drinking water protection areas."