The companies want to frack Cuadrilla’s existing exploration well at Grange Hill near Singleton and to drill and frack six new wells together, as revealed by the Telegraph last month, at yet-to-be-confirmed locations.

They also plan to drill but not to frack at three further sites to take rock samples to help them hone their shale gas exploration plans.

Cuadrilla plans to carry out the work over the next 18 months to two years but will first need to pass a series of regulatory hurdles to gain planning permission and Environment Agency permits.

Under plans set out last week the companies will pay £100,000 in “benefits” to communities where fracking takes place to help compensate for the disruption.

However, those living near the drill-sites that are not fracked have not been promised any financial benefits.

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said: “The purpose of all our ongoing exploratory work is to demonstrate that natural gas can be produced from the shale in commercial quantities. By sharing our plans for the exploratory programme, we hope that people will have an understanding of what we plan to do and why.”

Fracking, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into the rock at high pressure to fracture the rock and extract gas trapped within it, is fiercely opposed by some local communities who fear earthquakes, environmental damage and disruption.

Cuadrilla caused two earthquakes when fracking near Blackpool in 2011, leading to a ban on the practice. The ban was lifted in December after new controls were introduced intended to prevent tremors.

A British Geological Survey study last week suggested that northern England could provide enough shale gas to supply the UK’s gas needs for 40 years

The distribution of benefits for shale gas exploration could prove controversial and has the potential to divide communities, Dan Byles MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on shale gas, warned at a conference earlier this month.

“Generating the money for the local community is the easy bit – the hard bit is defining who is the local community, who actually should be benefiting? There is a danger if you say, ‘You are 7km away from a pad but a lateral fracture is going to come under your home, so we need to compensate you’, that is feeding the myth that you are going to even notice or be affected by the fact this is coming under you.

“The danger is if you only pick individual households and say ‘we are going to give you a cash payment or a council tax reduction or cheaper energy bills’, that’s the quickest way to split a community because you can’t do it for everybody.

“If you simply say, ‘I’m sorry, you live two miles away, you live two and a half miles away, so you get x and you get nothing’, you will simply split communities.”