New fracking drive ‘to spark rural warfare’: Campaigners warn of ‘battles’ to defend the countryside after licences for drilling in 27 areas are awarded

Campaigners warned of ‘battles’ to defend the countryside last night as vast new areas of England were left facing the possibility of being fracked.

Licences for 27 areas, mostly in northern England and the Midlands, including near Nottingham, Sheffield, Lincoln and Preston, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas.

A further 132 areas, including parts of the West Country, the South Coast, the North East and North West, will follow suit subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.

Around 1,000 square miles of England are covered by the 27 confirmed licences, with a further 5,000 square miles subject to consultation. It comes after measures to fast-track planning applications for fracking were revealed, with ministers able to step in and take over decision-making from local councils.

Fracking involves injecting water, chemicals and sand into shale rock to release the gas trapped within. Energy minister Lord Bourne said backing onshore oil and gas, and the safe development of the shale gas industry, would help build a more resilient economy, create jobs and secure energy supplies.