The Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) has offered 93 onshore exploration licences across 159 blocks throughout the UK.
The licences, though not offering direct access for companies to begin operations, offer the successful applicants exclusivity over an area of land for onshore oil and gas exploration, appraisal and extraction, the government said.
The exclusivity applies to shale gas operations, in which 75% of the 159 blocks are related, the government added.
Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: “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.”
Many of the licences, which form part of the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round, are for areas in the North East of England.
Chemicals firm Ineos was awarded 21 licences.
In response to the licensing round, Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe said: “This is the start of a shale gas revolution that will transform manufacturing in the UK.
“Ineos has the skills to safely extract the gas and we have already committed to both fully consult and to share the rewards with the local communities.”
Fracking firm Cuadrilla was also a big winner, being awarded 16 licences.
Cuadrilla chief executive officer Francis Egan said the licences give his company a “leading position” in Yorkshire, as well as in Lancashire.
“The massive potential for the natural gas to be extracted in these areas could help to drive the Northern Powerhouse by securing the low carbon energy future of the UK as well as creating investment and local jobs across the region,” Egan said.
However, Greenpeace, who last week claimed many of the companies to receive licences were linked to offshore tax havens, has accused the government of sending mixed messages.
“Just days after an historic agreement at the Paris climate summit to move towards a renewable energy future – the UK Government’s gung ho approach to a new fossil fuel industry is bizarre and irresponsible,” said Greenpeace energy campaigner Hannah Martin.
At the Paris climate summit, over 190 nations, including the UK, agreed to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
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