"Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the United Kingdom," British Energy Secretary Ed Davey said in a statement. "It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy."
The United States is in the midst of a shale natural gas boom as new drilling technologies give explorers access to previously untapped reserves. British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne last week said shale natural gas is expected to make a "substantial contribution" to domestic supplies in the next decade.
Davey said the shale natural gas industry in his country was in its infancy.
Exploratory work was halted last year at a site in northwestern England because of small tremors associated with fracking operations. British officials said companies must assess the potential risk of tremors.
Tony Grayling, one of the government's top climate officials, said London takes environmental risks associated with shale exploration "very seriously."
"My decision is based on the evidence," said Davey. "It comes after detailed study of the latest scientific research available and advice from leading experts in the field."
Some of the chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing are considered potential environmental threats.
The British Geological Survey in a 2010 study said the shale gas reserve potential could be as large as 5.3 trillion cubic feet, but cautioned "there are no reliable indicators of potential productivity."