Rich deposits of gas have been discovered under the rolling countryside of Melton and the Vale of Belvoir.
Shale gas, a natural gas contained in rocks hundreds of millions of years old, has been found by geologists at the British Geological Survey (BGS), just over the Leicestershire border at Keyworth, in Nottinghamshire, as part of ongoing geological survey work.
It is normally found in areas with a history of coal mining.
Ed Hough, a geologist with the BGS, said: “The shale was discovered as part of a strategic survey of the UK.
“We have identified several areas of the UK, including this large area in the East Midlands where the potential to recover large amounts of shale gas exists.
“Any exploration is in the very early stages and any work would need a licence from the Department for the Environment and Climate Change. There is a wide area to be explored and samples obtained for analysis to determine shale gas potential in the area.”
Melton and the Vale form part of the Widmerpool Gulf, which stretches through south Nottinghamshire and into Derbyshire.
But the means of extracting the gas from rocks – known as hydro-fracturing or “fracking” using water pumped at high pressure to prop open fractures in a rock so the gas can escape – is controversial.
Last year, Blackpool was rocked by two tremors, caused as engineers tried to extract shale gas by “fracking”.
The discovery of the gas has been welcomed by UKIP Euro MP Roger Helmer, the party’s industry and energy spokesman.
He said: “I believe that shale gas offers the prospect of a huge economic boost for the region.
“Unlike the wind turbines that are blighting our landscape, gas delivers low-cost, continuous and sustainable power.”
He added: “There have been horror stories circulated by green lobbyists but in fact the large-scale extraction of shale gas in the USA has been remarkably successful.”
Melton borough councillor Matthew O’ Callaghan said: “While an additional source of fuel is to be welcomed, there are significant concerns about the process used to extract this form of energy.
“There should be exhaustive tests and concerns allayed before any commercial extraction is even considered in what is an extremely sensitive area of the countryside.”
Coun Malise Graham, a member of the same authority, said: “It is vital that a thorough investigation is undertaken before work goes ahead.”
Tony Stott, chairman of the Leicestershire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The development of a gas industry on a large scale could transform and industrialise countryside and many rural communities.
“More research on the environmental effects, such as methane leaking, pollution, groundwater contamination, and the risk of minor earthquakes, is urgently needed.”