Much of the West Country could become a target for 'fracking' companies keen to tap into the region's natural resources.
The Government stepped up its support for shale gas, sparking a fresh row with environmental groups over the controversial process of "fracking" for energy.
A report by engineering giant Amec set out the potential benefits of shale gas, including the creation of between 16,000 and 32,000 jobs, and £100,000 to communities where sites are based.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon said shale gas exploration could bring growth, jobs and energy security to the UK. A new map shows a great swathe of the country is "under consideration" for fracking, with most of Somerset, Dorset and all of Wiltshire being considered.
However, Greenpeace accused the Government of wanting to open two-thirds of England up to fracking, creating enough waste water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, while villages could experience 51 truck movements a day.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "These plans cast a dark shadow over many communities across Britain who could now face the threat of fracking in their backyard. The Government admits shale gas and coal-bed methane development could have significant impacts on local people and the environment, while experts say they won't bring down energy bills."
Consultations will be held in the coming months, and a new licensing round to allow companies to explore for shale gas will be launched in the summer. Mr Fallon forecast a high degree of interest from companies, with between 50 and 150 licences issued. Ministers have also published the "regulatory roadmap", saying it clarified the "robust processes" that operators need to comply with to get a licence.
Mr Fallon cited the growth of shale gas production in the United States.
"It has the potential to have an impact here. It can reduce our dependency on liquid natural gas. We face the prospect of having to import 70 per cent of our gas by 2030 if we have not found any shale by then."
Fracking has proved controversial, sparking protests in areas including Balcombe in Sussex. Greenpeace energy campaigner Anna Jones said: "There's no public mandate for this industrialisation of the English countryside and for digging up new forms of fossil fuels."
Mike Jones, of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board, called for communities to be listened to and he added: "The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people."