Anti-fracking protesters have reacted with dismay after new licences for onshore gas and oil exploration in 159 blocks were granted by the gas regulator.
Campaigners say the move could open swathes of the country to fracking – including areas of outstanding natural beauty like the Forest of Bowland and Rivington, near Chorley.
Friends of the Earth North West spokesman Furqan Naeem said: “The people of Lancashire and the local authority already rejected fracking back in June, yet the government is intent on subjecting our communities to potential harm from this risky industry.”
Regulator the Oil and Gas Authority has granted 93 onshore licences, with around three quarters of the 159 blocks relating to unconventional shale oil or gas exploration.
They are all subject to planning permission and other permits. The new areas earmarked run from Longridge, near Preston, east to Nelson, and south to Horwich and Bolton.
Cuadrilla is already trying to get approval to frack at two sites near Blackpool.
The firm has now picked up another 16 licences in East and South Yorkshire.
Francis Egan, chief executive officer of Cuadrilla, said: “The award of these licences gives Cuadrilla a leading position in each of the three most prospective shale gas exploration areas in Northern England, namely Lancashire Bowland, Gainsborough in South Yorkshire and Cleveland in East Yorkshire.
“The massive potential for the natural gas to be extracted in these areas could help to drive the Northern Powerhouse by securing the low carbon energy future of the UK as well as creating investment and local jobs across the region,” he added.