New licences for onshore gas and oil exploration in 159 blocks have been granted in a move campaigners say could open swathes of the country to fracking.
Regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has granted 93 onshore licences, with around three quarters of the 159 blocks relating to unconventional shale oil or gas exploration.
OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “This round enables a significant amount of the UK’s shale prospects to be taken forward to be explored and tested.”
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “Last month we set out the vital role gas will play in the UK’s transition to a low-carbon future.
“The licences offered today move us a step closer - driving forwards this industry which will provide secure, home-grown energy to hard-working families and businesses for decades to come.”
She said the Task Force for Shale Gas - an industry-backed body - had found with the right standards in place fracking could take place safely, and said “we need to get shale gas moving”.
But environmental groups oppose the opening up of the countryside to fracking for fossil fuels, a move which comes just days after the UK backed the world’s first universal climate agreement to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.