Industry regulator the OGA (Oil and Gas Authority) said 159 onshore blocks under the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas licensing round have been formally offered to successful applicants.
The blocks will be incorporated into 93 onshore licences.
Around 75% of the 159 blocks offered relate to unconventional shale oil or gas, with additional regulatory requirements applying to this kind of activity.
OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “I am pleased that the 14th Onshore Round attracted strong interest and a high quality of proposed work programmes. This round enables a significant amount of the UK’s shale prospects to be taken forward to be explored and tested.
“Upon acceptance of these offers, applicants will be issued with licences and will be able to begin planning their future strategies for exploration activities.
“These will be subject to further local planning, safety, environmental and other authorisations.”
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said the move comes after the UK Government set out the “vital role” gas would play in the country’s transition to a “low carbon future”.
She said: “The licences offered today move us a step closer – driving forwards this industry which will provide secure, home grown energy to hardworking families and businesses for decades to come.
“Alongside conventional drilling sites, we need to get shale gas moving. As the Task Force for Shale Gas report found earlier this week, with the right standards in place fracking can take place safely. Now is the time to press ahead and get exploration underway so that we can determine how much shale gas there is and how much we can use.”
While a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) does not itself give any direct permission for operations to begin. A PEDL grants the licensee exclusivity over an area of land for onshore hydrocarbon exploration, appraisal and extraction.
The exclusivity applies to both conventional and unconventional operations.
The OGA said the offer of PEDLS follows a detailed environmental assessment of the the proposed blocks under the Conservation of Habitata and Species Regulations 2010.