Cuadrilla names fracking exploration sites in Lancashire
Cuadrilla, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK's shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire.
The company says it intends to apply for planning permission to drill and frack at two sites at Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton near Blackpool.
It said local residents were being consulted on the plans.
A small number of companies are currently exploring for shale gas in locations across the UK.
The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England alone.
But fracking is controversial, and campaigners have raised concerns over its environmental impact.
"The company intends to apply for planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells on each of the sites," Cuadrilla said in a statement.
Reporting from one of the new sites, the BBC's correspondent John Moylan says if the permissions are granted, fracking could begin as early as the first three months of 2015.
He said the company had claimed a "positive response on the doorsteps" after it had been out leafleting local residents.
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla chief executive, said the company had decided to focus on just two sites in Lancashire to reduce the impact on the local area, while allowing it to find out how much gas can be recovered from the ground below.
"We're committed to being a good neighbour and to talking with the community at every stage of the process," he added.
Fracking plans have prompted local protests at other sites.
There are concerns that the process, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock to force out the gas, could lead to earth tremors or affect water supplies.
Helen Rimmer from Friends of the Earth said: "These plans will be met by stiff opposition from local people rightly concerned about having the UK's first attempted multiple-well fracking operation under their feet.
"Fracking isn't the answer to our energy problems. Experts say it will do little to tackle climate change - and even Cuadrilla has said it won't cut energy bills."
Cuadrilla said separate applications were being made to install seismic monitoring equipment in Lancashire to monitor the effects of the fracking process.
It is also giving £100,000 to the local community for each well drilled.
The UK's nascent shale gas industry is still at the exploration stage.
But energy companies and ministers hope large reserves of shale gas could revolutionise the energy industry as it did in the United States.
Bob Dudley, the chief executive of oil giant BP, told the BBC that shale gas in the US had been a "wild card" in the global oil market, helping to keep the oil price flat for the past few years, despite disruption to production in places such as Nigeria and Libya.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon says he expects up to 40 shale gas sites to be drilled in England over the next two years.
Major investors have begun taking an interest in the UK's shale gas.
Cuadrilla's latest planned exploration will be partly funded by Centrica - the energy giant behind British Gas. It owns a 25% stake in Cuadrilla's operations in the region.
Last month, French company Total also announced it was investing at least $21m (£12.7m) in UK shale gas exploration.