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Prime Minister David Cameron visiting an onshore site in England. Image courtesy of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The UK government will expand fracking across Britain, allowing drilling in national parks and other protected areas under “exceptional circumstances,” the Guardian said Monday.

About half of the UK is now open for exploration.

This is the first new round of onshore exploration licenses in six years.

The government will also clarify rules explaining when drilling can take place in national parks, world heritage sites and designated areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Energy firms will have to submit an environmental statement if they want to drill on or near protected areas.

Principal Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles is expected to make final decisions on appeals to drill in protected areas within the next 12 months, the Guardian said.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) estimates that there is between 49.4 and 134.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas in the UK, with a central estimate of 80.3 tcf.

According to the BGS, the amount of shale oil in the UK ranges between 3.2 and 11.2 billion barrels (bbl), with a central estimate of 6.0 bbl.

In 2013, the BGS estimated that shale deposits could supply the UK with gas for up to 40 years.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Operators Group, told the Guardian that the new licenses is a positive sign for energy investors and firms in the UK and should act “as an exemplar for the rest of Europe.”