New licences for onshore gas and oil exploration in 159 blocks have been granted in a move campaigners say could open swathes of the country to fracking.
Regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has granted 93 onshore licences, with around three quarters of the 159 blocks relating to unconventional shale oil or gas exploration.
OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: "This round enables a significant amount of the UK's shale prospects to be taken forward to be explored and tested."
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: "Last month we set out the vital role gas will play in the UK's transition to a low-carbon future.
"The licences offered today move us a step closer - driving forwards this industry which will provide secure, home-grown energy to hard-working families and businesses for decades to come."
She said the Task Force for Shale Gas - an industry-backed body - had found with the right standards in place fracking could take place safely, and said "we need to get shale gas moving".
But environmental groups oppose the opening up of the countryside to fracking for fossil fuels, a move which comes just days after the UK backed the world's first universal climate agreement to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
And the chairman of Task Force for Shale Gas, Lord Chris Smith, warned there was no medium or long term future for gas in the energy mix without developing technology to capture its carbon emissions and store them permanently underground.
Earlier this week he described the Government's move to cancel a £1 billion competition to develop carbon capture and storage on power stations as "absurd".
The Government has also faced criticism this week after it won a vote to allow fracking to take place under national parks, world heritage sites and other protected areas.
Energy giant Ineos said it had been awarded 21 new shale gas licences, making it one of the biggest players in the nascent industry with a total of a million acres under licence.
Chairman Jim Ratcliffe said: "We are delighted with today's announcement.
"The UK government has demonstrated it is determined to move forward with this exciting new industry. This is the start of a shale gas revolution that will transform manufacturing in the UK.
"Ineos has the skills to safely extract the gas and we have already committed to both fully consult and to share the rewards with the local communities. "