FRACKING may be on its way to the Cotswolds after MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown helped push through a bill relaxing the rules on the controversial process.

On Wednesday, MPs voted 298 to 261 to allow fracking for shale gas below national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) like the Cotswolds and other protected sites.

Under the rules, the process, which involved blasting high-pressured water underground to release gas, can take place on the edge of protected areas. Water can then be pushed horizontally under the areas to push out the gas.

Anti-fracking campaigners in the Cotswolds have come out strongly against the move, with Frack Free Cotswolds chairman Jonathan Whittaker calling it “hypocritical” so soon after the Paris climate change deal.

Following the vote, the Government's Oil and Gas Authority announced they had awarded 93 licences to frack, including in areas of the Forest of Dean.

However, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Cotswold MP for 23 years, said the regulations “provided a number of safeguards fracking in AONBs”.

“Fracking cannot take place from wells that are drilled at the surface of AONBs and therefore the only way to access these areas is from the side,” he said.

“In addition AONBs are further protected as gas cannot be extracted at depths of less than 1,200 meters.”

County councillor Paul Hodgkinson attacked Mr Clifton-Brown’s decision to vote for fracking, saying “no one locally has been consulted”.

“It is outrageous that the Cotswolds MP has supported a relaxation of the rules on fracking. We should be doing all we can to protect the unique nature of the area we live in, not jeopardise it,” he said.

“So many questions of safety are still being asked about fracking. Only last week the Government signed up to a landmark climate change deal and is now abandoning those pledges to create a market for another fossil fuel.”

The government has sought to quell fears that it could cause damage to the area, saying the plans would protect "our most precious landscapes".

Mr Whittaker said: “The government clearly has no cohesive energy policy. Last week they were supporting renewable energy in Paris and now this, it's incredibly hypocritical. They’ve now taken away almost all hurdles to fracking.

"The truth of the industry is that if they can make money, they will, no matter the damage.”

Cirencester environmental activist Mike Haines added his voice to the clamour against fracking. He told the Standard that much of the Cotswolds was made up of oolite rock which helps purifies the water.

He said: “I’m disgusted by the decision. This is an AONB and we don’t want damage from these fracking idiots. What’s going to happen to the water? They just don’t yet know what effect fracking will have."

He added that if fracking was to come to the area, he would be fighting it.

To find out more about the anti-fracking group