Energy firm Cuadrilla Resources announced plans today to sink up to 800 wells in the Lancashire area - but campaigners have called for a ban on shale gas exploration amid environmental and safety concerns.
The company, whose exploration efforts near Blackpool had to be halted earlier in the year due to fears that they were causing tremors, says there are 200 trillion cubic feet of underground gas in the area.
The wells would create thousands of jobs, it says.
Cuadrilla plans to sink as many as 400 wells over the next nine years and up to 800 over 16 years if gas extraction is successful.
But campaigners warned that the method of extraction, known as "fracking," could have serious safety implications and divert resources away from renewable energy.
Shale gas is extracted by drilling down into the ground and then hydraulically fracturing the shale using high pressure liquid to release the gas.
The process has proved controversial in the US because the drilling process involves chemicals, including carcinogenic compounds, which can pollute water supplies.
There have been further claims that the gas itself can pollute drinking water, with footage of people able to set fire to the water coming out of their taps posted on YouTube.
The problems have prompted campaigners to call for a Britain-wide ban on shale gas extraction.
However calls for a moratorium on fracking were ruled out earlier this year by a committee of MPs who said they had found no evidence it would pose a risk to water supplies from underground aquifers.
Co-operative spokesman Paul Monaghan said: "On the face of it new natural gas finds appear to be good news, but the government must not be seduced by this without considering all the impacts of shale gas extraction."
He reiterated the call for a moratorium on any further exploitation of shale gas until the wider environmental concerns had been addressed.
Friends of the Earth's senior climate campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "Drilling for shale gas raises serious safety concerns and risks polluting water supplies.
"It could also take vital funding away from the clean energy solutions we know are safe and will work.
"Our future power needs should come from the wind, sun and waves and using our energy more carefully. This will slash emissions and boost the economy by creating new businesses and jobs."
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