New research undertaken by the independent House of Commons library and Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh show that one-sixth of Yorkshire’s protected landscape, including 140 Sites of Special Scientific Interest – SSSI, are now covered by Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences.
In the Sheffield area, fracking may affect part of the Peak District to the west of the city and several Sites of Special Scientific Interest including Wadsley Fossil Forest, Totley Wood and Moss Valley Meadows.
Miss Haigh said Ecclesall Wood and Graves Park are also in areas covered by the licences.
But the Government’s Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom has said while the licence areas cover a 100 kilometre square block, in reality, drill workings are the size of two football pitches, and it is against the law to drill on the surface of a protected landscape.
Permission to frack also has to be passed by the Environment Agency, local authority and Health and Safety Executive.
Miss Haigh said: “Yorkshire is blessed with more treasured and protected land than anywhere else in the country.
“It reveals how close to the wind the Government are sailing in their dash for gas that whole swathes of land supposed to be protected for generation after generation to enjoy, roam and study is now designated for fracking exploration.
“Fracking companies need to get real. This analysis reveals Yorkshire is effectively a no-go zone for shale gas exploitation.
“The fracking zones in Sheffield sit right over a huge urban conurbation, beautiful green space treasured by the community, and two Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
“That land is ours to treasure and I will fight to defend it from fracking which simply isn’t viable.
“And there is so much protected land within fracking exploration zones across Yorkshire that it would be next to impossible to exploit the gas & make a profit without damaging our treasured land and what it is that we and millions who visit love about the place.”
But Ms Leadsom said Ms Haigh’s claims gave the wrong impression of potential fracking sites in the UK.
She said: “These claims are completely misleading. We have been very clear that fracking will not be allowed to take place within protected areas, including national parks and sites of special scientific interest.
“This industry, rooted at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse, has the potential to create jobs and boost our energy security by reducing our reliance on imported gas.
“And this huge potential is why we are taking our environmental responsibilities very seriously and protecting our most precious natural area.”
With rock deep beneath fenland, marsh, grasslands and woodlands across the region all covered by the licences, Ms Haigh now wants the Government to revoke all licences on, under, or close to protected areas.
Current legislation means fracking can take place at depths of below 1,200 metres under national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and SSSIs.
No drilling is allowed at the surface, and around 8,000ft of solid mud-rock separates the natural gas of the Bowland shale and the layer of Corallian Limestone, which provides much of Yorkshire’s public water supply through its aquifer.
Exploratory licences now cover 533 sq kms of protected land – around 14 per cent of all of Yorkshire’s beauty spots, however not all will lead to fracking applications being lodged.
On protected land all preparatory work is done with instruments on the surface which visualise geological formations below.
Last August, it was announced 27 areas, including in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government seeks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.
A further 132 areas, including parts of the West Country and the south coast as well the North East and North West, were set to be awarded subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.
Energy minister Lord Bourne said: “As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy supplies, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale gas in the UK.”
But Greenpeace said the announcement had fired the starting gun for the ‘fight for the future of our countryside’.
Spokeswoman Daisy Sands said: “Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking.”