The Government will next year launch the UK’s 14th onshore licensing round, he said, announcing that engineering consultancy AMEC has been hired to do the environmental assessment of plots’ suitability for exploration.

The last such licensing round closed in February 2008, meaning this will be the first to take place since the shale gas revolution in the US, which has been at the forefront of the drive to extract methane gas trapped in layers of shale rock.

Under each licensing round, companies take the first step towards developing land for oil or gas extraction, although they would need to get further permissions to carry out work such as fracking – hydraulic fracturing – to release shale gas.

“The Government is creating the right framework to accelerate shale gas development in a responsible way,” Mr Fallon said. “We announced fracking could resume with robust regulation last December and there is nothing now stopping licensees from bringing on new drilling plans.

“It is up to licensees to come forward with plans to explore the shale potential, engaging with local communities and gaining the necessary planning permissions and permits.”

More than 330 licences for the onshore exploration and exploitation of energy sources both conventional and unconventional – such as shale gas – have already been issued in the UK.

Considerable interest is expected under the coming round, as companies look to explore the potential for fracking in the UK, with the Government appearing keen to harness the economic benefits.

Opponents of the process, which involves using a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to fracture rock, allowing the gas or oil trapped within to flow out, worry about the environmental impact and upset to residents in affected areas. Tremors related to fracking activity near Blackpool led to initial work being halted.

“Shale gas has great potential and we have the right regulation in place so the UK benefits as quickly as possible in terms of energy security, investment and jobs,” Mr Fallon said. “But development must be done in partnership with communities. We are working hard with industry on a package of community benefits and to ensure that their concerns are properly met.”

Mr Fallon was speaking at the first meeting of the new All Party Parliamentary Group for Unconventional Gas & Oil (APPG) in the House of Commons, a forum to discuss unconventional oil and gas exploration and development, and its impact.