More than half of Britain and two-thirds of England will be open to fracking despite persistent opposition from environmental groups, the government said.
The injection of high-pressure mixtures of water, sand and chemicals to extract natural gas is an "exciting prospect" that could bring "growth, jobs and energy security" to Britain, Energy Minister Michael Fallon said Tuesday.
"We have seen the enormous impact that shale gas extraction in the [United] States has had on its economy, both on household bills and industrial prices. It has had a strong impact there and it has the potential to have an impact here," he said.
"It will reduce our dependence on liquid natural gas. We import over half our gas at the moment and we face the prospect of having to import 70 percent of our gas by 2030 if we haven't found any shale by then," Fallon said.
London plans to offer energy companies the chance for 150 licenses starting next summer to drill as many as 2,880 wells across more than 37,000 square miles, the government said.
Companies will need planning and environmental permits before they are allowed to drill.
Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change, which regulates the oil and gas industry, said it was "making preparations" to offer the licenses.
The areas targeted for fracking stretch from central Scotland to every county in England except Cornwall, the southwest peninsula's westernmost part, a map showing the government plans indicated.
The fracking areas include several national parks, numerous designated "areas of outstanding natural beauty" and sites deemed of "international importance" for conservation and wildlife, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The total amount of gas produced from the new licenses into the 2030s could reach about 8.6 trillion cubic feet, a government-sponsored report projected.
Britain's current gas demand is 3.52 trillion cubic feet a year.
The fracking could create 16,000 to 32,000 full-time jobs if the shale gas industry takes off, said the report by London oil and gas consulting firm AMEC PLC.
Prime Minister David Cameron predicted in August "a thriving shale gas industry" would generate 74,000 jobs.
Fallon promised local communities Tuesday they would receive at least $163,000 for each fracked site, plus 1 percent of revenue from each well over the well's projected 20-year life, if the fracking succeeds and gas is produced.
This could add up to $7.8 million for each drilling site, AMEC said.
But the AMEC report, titled "Strategic Environmental Assessment for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing," also said fracking areas would likely experience "significant negative effects," including up to 51 trucks a day hauling water and other materials along local roads for up to 145 weeks, or nearly three years.
The fracking companies would also likely consume nearly 20 percent of the areas' wastewater, the report said.
In addition, the "unconventional oil and gas exploration and production activities" would have "a significant negative effect on climate change" locally, when compared with traditional oil and gas exploration, said the report, which can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Fracking-Report.
But these consequences can be managed, AMEC said.
Fallon said London would consider comments on the report before going ahead with the licensing.
Environmental groups criticized the decision, pointing to the pollution and waste of enormous amounts of water. They also said Britain should invest in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar rather than move into a new area of fossil fuels whose effects on the environment and public health are still being debated.
"Real energy security in the U.K. can only be achieved through clean renewable sources and energy efficiency," Greenpeace said. "Fracking is a dangerous distraction."