Petrochemical giant Ineos said it will carry out a large-scale seismic survey this summer to find new fracking sites in northern England.
The chemicals manufacturer also announced it will run public debates with communities in Cheshire, Yorkshire and the East Midlands to address the general public dislike of the hydraulic fracturing technique, which involves pumping water under pressure into the rock to fracture it and release the trapped shale gas.
"Up until now, the 3D seismic data that has been shot in England covers around 400-odd kilometres,” said Gary Haywood, chief executive of Ineos Shale. “Over the next 12 months we hope to top that by shooting more seismic data than has ever been shot in the UK.”
He further added the firm believed that if the geology is suitable, economic benefits for the country would be substantial.
After carrying out the survey, Ineos will lodge planning applications for core drilling by the end of this year. It expects to press ahead with core drilling - which establishes whether a site is viable for fracking - in 2017, before submitting a separate planning application to carry out test fracks at the beginning of 2018.
"We think the next one to two years will be very important for determining what the potential is for shale in the UK," Haywood said.
The firm has hired three US consultants that helped drive the shale gas boom in the US to push through with the plans and help to tackle the public opposition.
Ineos is one of the biggest players in the UK’s emerging fracking industry. The firm won 23 licenses in the Government's 14th licensing round and has vowed to invest £650m to establish 30 wells.
The UK is estimated to have substantial amounts of gas trapped in underground shale rocks and Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to go all-out to extract these reserves, to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output.
However, the fracking method is widely criticised by environmentalists, who believe it only encourages further dependence on fossil fuels instead of supporting the development of clean renewable resources. The method is also associated with the risk of earthquakes and environmental damage, including polluting water resources.