An energy firm involved in controversial shale gas fracking has revealed it is sitting on up to 19 times more gas than previously thought.
IGas said it may have up to 172.3 trillion cubic feet of gas in a 300-square mile area in Cheshire and south Lancashire which it holds licences over.
It compares with its previous estimate of about nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
That brings the London-based group closer to its rival Cuadrilla Resources – which has around 200 trillion cubic feet of gas under the ground in the Lancashire area.
IGas chief executive Andrew Austin said: “These licences have a very significant shale gas resource with the potential to transform the company and materially benefit the communities in which we operate.”
It plans to start drilling later this year to refine these estimates, and will also do further research into prospective shale gas resources in the East Midlands and the Weald Basin in the south of England.
It is thought only 10-20 per cent the gas will be recoverable.
Professor David Elmes, oil and gas expert at Warwick Business School, said: “How much shale gas can be commercially produced in the UK in ways that are seen as environmentally and socially acceptable is one of the big unknowns we face as a country when considering future energy supplies.
“Shale gas in the UK remains both exciting and controversial because we simply do not know what supplies it offers and at what price, both financially and socially.”
Shale gas is extracted by fracking - pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into rock to release gas.
The process was linked to two earth tremors in the Blackpool area and has been opposed by environmental groups.