Controversial "fracking" won backing from the Government today with promises of a generous new tax regime for extracting shale gas.
'Chancellor George Osborne said "shale gas is part of the future and we will make it happen" as he unveiled measures to support the new industry, including field allowances to promote early investment in the sector.
Shale gas is exploited through drilling into rock and fracturing it with high pressure liquid to extract the gas, in a process known as fracking.
Supporters say shale gas production in the UK could provide a cheap, secure source of energy, but opponents are worried about the possibility of earthquakes and water pollution caused by fracking.
It could also lead to damaging development of shale wells in the countryside, potentially threatening house prices, and will make it harder for the UK to meet goals to cut emissions and tackle climate change, they argue.
The Chancellor said proposals would be developed to ensure that local communities would benefit from shale gas projects in their area.
But the Government will be keeping under review whether the largest projects could have the option to apply for the go-ahead through a central Government process rather than via local authorities.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England's director of policy Neil Sinden said: "We will make sure communities are not sidelined in the decision-making process, if we move beyond the exploration phase, and that the beauty and tranquility of the countryside aren't compromised by intrusive development related to shale gas."
Environmental groups were quick to criticise the Chancellor's support for fossil fuels, saying green sector growth was outstripping the wider UK economy and should be backed rather than polluting energy sources that would not help cut bills.
Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: "We got tax breaks for polluters and almost complete disinterest in the green economy, one of the only sectors that has consistently delivered jobs and growth in recent years.
"British businesses stand poised to become dominant forces in the global clean energy market, but they're being undermined by a Chancellor who seems increasingly ill-suited to the times we live in. This man lacks a vision."
Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "Shale gas is not the solution to rising energy bills - it's dirty, unnecessary and its extraction will have an earth-shattering impact on local communities across the UK."