The British Gas owner Centrica is in talks to buy a stake in the Bowland Shale licences owned by Cuadrilla Resources in the north-west of England.

Centrica and Cuadrilla have declined to comment on the talks, which were first reported by the Financial Times on Friday.

Sources have said negotiations with Cuadrilla and its existing shareholders AJ Lucas and Riverstone Holding were at an advanced stage. A firm deal could be struck within weeks.

AJ Lucas Group said in January that it was in talks with energy investors to sell a stake in the shale gas explorer, amid media speculation that Centrica was a key contender in the discussions.

It has been reported that the Bowland Shale licences could contain as much as 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Britain, which has been looking at huge shale gas reserves to help cut its reliance on expensive gas imports and to contribute to state coffers, introduced generous tax breaks for shale gas in March.