New Rules Proposed For Fracking Access In UK
New rules intended to make it easier for companies to get access for fracking on land have been proposed by the Government.
The plan is to allow underground access beneath 300m (985ft), with people living above receiving a voluntary payment of £20,000 per well.
The decision comes amid a long-awaited survey by the British Geological Survey (BGS).
It said there is an estimate 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil in a vast basin in Conservative strongholds Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire.
It said the Weald Basin, between Wiltshire and Kent, could contain up to 8.5 billion barrels of resources, which is different from proven reserves.
In the United States, extraction has only been able to reach about 10% of the total oil.
To put the potential reserves in scale, North Sea oil fields have so far given up around 40 billion barrels of oil.
The BGS said the study found that shale gas is unlikely to be recoverable in the southern areas where oil is located.
Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the BGS, said: "It's not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens and we won't really know the answers until we have got some more drilling and testing."
Asked about the findings, energy minister Michael Fallon said: "It's not a let-down or a let-up. It is what it is.
"It's a potentially home-grown source of energy that we simply cannot afford to ignore.
"That is why we're encouraging this development through streamlining and simplifying the regulatory process while protecting the environment."
Prime Minister David Cameron has voiced his support for fracking and said it would be "good for our country".
Chancellor George Osborne announced incentives to expand the process during his Budget speech in March.
The BGS has already suggested there could be enough shale gas in the north of England to supply Britain for 40 years.
The South Downs National Park lies across much of the area likely†to hold reserves.
And while supporters believe fracking will lead to lower energy bills and create thousands of jobs critics claim it harms the environment, including potentially causing earth tremors and polluting water supplies.
Fracking firm Cuadrilla faced fierce protests last year over its exploratory drilling plans at Balcombe, West Sussex, with some activists arrested.
Licences have already been approved for areas such as Lancashire, with further swathes of the country said to have fracking potential.
The technique, widely used in the US, involves high-pressure liquid being pumped deep underground to split shale rock and release gas and oil supplies.
Business Secretary Vince Cable told Sky News that drilling under houses had been going on for years in the coal industry.
"It's not been any issue," the Liberal Democrat MP said.
"We're talking about activity well, well below ground level - not under people's gardens. Providing that's clearly understood, it creates less of a problem."
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth's South East regional campaigner Brenda Pollack said: "These latest estimates will set alarm bells ringing across the South of England where fracking firms seem intent on punching holes in some of Britain's most beautiful countryside in the search for profits."