Campaign groups have lined up in opposition to fracking as the bidding process for licences gets underway, with claims that the process is bad for the environment and unsafe to the public.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth say plans to protect National Parks will not quieten protesters, adding that communities should be offered the same safeguards.
Today the risk of fracking has spread. This threat to the environment and public health could now affect millions more people.
Ministers waited until the parliamentary recess to make their move, no doubt aware of the political headache this will cause to MPs whose constituencies will be affected.
Shale gas fracking could lead to water shortgages in parts of the country, a report warned last week.
The paper by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) claimed the water-intensive nature of the process, along with predicted climate change, could mean existing public supplies may not provide enough to meet requirements.
The study also warned of "major shortcomings" in regulations regarding the local environmental and public health risks surrounding fracking.
It was also claimed that there was a "complete lack of evidence behind claims that shale gas exploitation will bring down UK energy bills".
Robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring are vital to ensure the public acceptability test is met when it comes to fracking, Labour's Shadow Energy Minister has said.
Tom Greatrex said: "With 80 per cent of our heating coming from gas and declining North Sea reserves, shale and other unconventional gas may have the potential to form a part of our future energy mix.
"There are legitimate environmental concerns that must be addressed before extraction is permitted.
"David Cameron's Government must take these issues seriously rather than drawing simplistic and irresponsible comparisons with the USA."
His comments come after the government announced the bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today.
National Parks will be protected from fracking unless there are "exceptional circumstances", ministers said.
As the latest bidding process for shale licences opened, ministers unveiled new guidance on which sites can be explored for gas and oil.
Applications to explore in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Sites and the Broads will refused other than in "exceptional circumstances and in the public interest".
Business and Energy minister Matthew Hancock said the new guidance will be "robustly enforced" to ensure Britain's "outstanding landscapes" are protected.
But Greenpeace said the policy would do nothing to reduce opposition to fracking, as campaigners continue to voice concern over the environmental risks.
The bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today, the government has announced.
The government is committed to going "all out for shale", claiming it is important for energy security, jobs and the economy.
But critics argue shale gas - which is extracted by the process of fracking - is damaging to the environment with the risk of water pollution.
The licences will allow companies to start test drilling, but they will still need to gain planning permission and environmental permits before further drilling can occur.
Fracking can take place in national parks because the visual intrusion it causes is minimal and the environmental risks have been exaggerated, the Environment Agency’s outgoing chairman has said.
According to The Times (£), Lord Smith of Finsbury said that provided fracking was properly regulated it would be safe and “very useful” in helping Britain reduce its reliance on imported gas and dirty coal-fired power stations.
The comments by the former Labour cabinet minister are significant because he is highly respected among environmental groups which oppose fracking.
The National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Angling Trust have called for fracking to be banned in Britain’s 15 national parks.
Greenpeace campaigner Simon Clydesdale has dismissed fracking company Cuadrilla's warning over the industry's future as a "ransom note".
Cuadrilla chief Francis Egan told The Times (£) it would be "ridiculous" to negotiate access with every landowner over permissions to drill under property.
Yet Clydesdale said:
Ministers are bending over backwards and cutting corners to satisfy the fracking lobby's every wish.
Paying off the fracking industry's ransom note in this way will come at a huge political cost for coalition MPs who are backing an increasingly unpopular industry offering no guarantees of ever being able to deliver.
The chief executive of leading fracking company Cuadrilla has warned that the industry will grind to a halt in Britain, unless the Government allows it to drill under people's property without permission.
Cuadrilla chief Francis Egan told The Times (£) it would be "ridiculous" to negotiate access with every landowner.
Asked what would happen if the attempt to change the law failed, he said: "I don't think the industry will go ahead in the UK."
The British Geological Survey has identified the main areas that could be affected by shale oil drilling across southern England.Read the full story ›
The British Geological Survey findings into how much shale oil is in southern England is not a let-down or a let-up, energy minister Michael Fallon said, after the director of energy Robert Gatliff said the results were "not a huge bonanza".
Mr Fallon added: "It's a potentially home-grown source of energy that we simply cannot afford to ignore. That is why we're encouraging this development through streamlining and simplifying the regulatory process while protecting the environment.
"There's nothing particularly green about tankering oil all the way across the world from the coast of Africa or from Russia if we have it here."