The bidding process for licences to explore shale gas will open today, the government has announced.
The government is committed to going "all out for shale", claiming it is important for energy security, jobs and the economy.
But critics argue shale gas - which is extracted by the process of fracking - is damaging to the environment with the risk of water pollution.
The licences will allow companies to start test drilling, but they will still need to gain planning permission and environmental permits before further drilling can occur.
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