Shale gas could be fuelling British homes for the first time by late 2015, under plans from fracking firm Cuadrilla.
The company is preparing to submit planning applications by the end of this month to frack at two sites in Lancashire next year.
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla chief executive, said that, if successful, it planned to connect the test fracking sites up to the gas grid, in what would be a milestone first for the fledgling British shale gas industry.
He also suggested homeowners hostile to fracking beneath their land should be entitled to only minimal compensation, if any.
Cuadrilla hopes to gain planning permission for its two sites, near the villages of Roseacre and Little Plumpton, in time to start drilling at the end of this year. They could then be fracked next summer “in a best case scenario”.
“After the initial flow test period, which is up to 90 days, if the flow rates look good then we would want to tie the well into the gas transmission system and flow it for a longer period to assess the flow rate over 18 to 24 months,” Mr Egan said.
The first shale gas could be flowing into the grid by the end of next year. Although quantities of gas from the exploratory sites would be relatively small, the step would be a symbolic first for the industry in Britain.
Just one shale gas well has been partially fracked in the UK to date, by Cuadrilla in 2011, with work halted when it caused earthquakes.
Cuadrilla, however, faces a number of hurdles if it is to proceed as planned at its new sites. As well as planning permission it must obtain numerous permits from the Environment Agency.
Industry sources fear any permission to frack may face judicial review challenge from environmental campaigners.
Cuadrilla could also find its optimal drilling routes blocked by hostile homeowners. The company intends to drill down vertically at each of its sites then out horizontally west for up to two kilometres.
It has signed agreements with farmers at each site allowing it to drill under their land – meaning at least some drilling will be possible – but not with all homeowners above the potential underground drilling area.
“If we were unable to get permission from householders we would have a smaller area, but we could still drill,” Mr Egan said.
Under current trespass law Cuadrilla would have to take hostile landowners to court to gain the right to drill beneath them, but the government is planning give companies an automatic right to drill.
Asked whether compensation should be paid to landowners, Mr Egan said: “I don’t think there’s any disturbance. If someone flies two miles above your house, do you get compensation?”