Investigations into the UK’s shale gas reserves could see about 40 test wells emerge in the coming years, a minister has said.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon said it would be "irresponsible" not to allow companies to find out if the underground reserves can be exploited, despite concerns over the controversial fracking extraction technique often used to extract the gas.
Fallon also reiterated his desire for more home-grown energy supplies, adding that the UK was last self-sufficient for gas in 2004.
The minister was speaking days after it emerged the bill to police anti-fracking protests at Balcombe, West Sussex, where energy company Cuadrilla carried out exploratory oil drilling, came to an estimated £4m.
Fallon told BBC Radio 4's Today: "We now know from the study we did in the summer that we've got twice or three times as much shale as we originally thought so we do need to do everything we can to make sure they can explore as soon as possible the potential for getting it out.
"When talking about shale gas, it doesn't have to involve fracking, some of it will just be core drilling. I think we're going to see a couple of years of exploration; of exploratory wells. There are about a dozen companies involved now in different sites up and down England looking for shale gas.
"So I think we're going to see maybe 30, 40 wells drilled over the next couple of years to see what the real potential is; whether this gas can be got out easily as they have been getting it out in the United States and whether they can get it out as cheaply as they have got it out in the United States."