A fracking company at the heart of anti-shale protests last year has announced plans to explore for shale gas in two new locations.

Cuadrilla Resources said it wanted to explore the full potential of Lancashire’s shale gas resources at the two sites in Fylde.

The company said it would apply for planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four wells on each of the sites.

Separate applications will also be made to install two seismic arrays that would be used to monitor the hydraulic fracturing process.

Cuadrilla pledged an “extensive” programme of public consultation, adding that each of the two exploration sites will have £100,000 made available for the benefit of the local community – up to £400,000 per site if four wells are hydraulically fractured.

Francis Egan, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, said: “We’ve been working hard to assess our site options and have undertaken extensive technical and geological analysis. As a result of this work, we have decided to focus on just two sites at this time.

“This will allow us to reduce the potential impact on the local area during exploration while still gathering the important information we need to determine how much gas could be recovered. We’re committed to being a good neighbour and to talking with the community at every stage of the process.”

Cuadrilla said it had decided not to apply for permission to carry out hydraulic fracturing at another site in the area – Grange Hill – adding the existing well will be used as the base for a seismic monitor to complement the seismic arrays that would be installed around the proposed new sites.

Cuadrilla handed out information packs on the proposed drilling to local residents.

Today’s announcement follows strong support from the Government for the development of shale gas, despite continued opposition from environmental groups about the impact of the fracking process.

Ministers have argued that shale gas could reduce the UK’s reliance on imported gas, as well as creating new jobs.

Cuadrilla believes Lancashire’s Bowland basin could have the potential to become a leading shale gas resource.

It is believed to be the first time a shale gas explorer has applied for planning permission for fracking since the lifting in December 2012 of an 18-month ban imposed after Cuadrilla caused two earth tremors while fracking in Lancashire in 2011.

The new sites are at Roseacre Wood, close to the village of Roseacre, and Preston New Road, west of Little Plumpton.

North West Energy Task Force spokesman Rob Green said: “Shale exploration in the North West is a real opportunity for business growth.

“Utilising the area’s natural resources and strong engineering traditions will create much needed jobs and investment.

“Businesses are all part of our community and we are keen to see Lancashire leading the responsible development of shale gas as part of the country’s energy mix.”

John Kersey, chairman of the North West Institute of Directors, said: “We welcome the news that shale exploration has taken another step forward in Lancashire. This is a real boost of confidence for our region’s economy.

“Shale gas has great potential to create new jobs, generate economic growth and boost tax revenues for our region’s public services. Opponents should know that by blocking shale’s development that they are putting thousands of North West jobs and investment at risk.

“It is vital that the North West business community gets behind this announcement and sends a clear message to Government that we are all supportive of Lancashire shale.”

But Friends of the Earth’s Helen Rimmer hit out at the plans.

“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,” she said.

“Cuadrilla claims to be a good neighbour, but it still hasn’t cleared up the mess from the botched fracking operation that caused earth tremors only a couple of miles from one of the proposed sites.

“Despite David Cameron’s gung-ho approach, opposition to shale gas is rising – and will grow further as more communities are faced with the fracking threat

“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.”