Energy Minister Michael Fallon claims Preston could face a two-way fight with Blackpool to become the nation’s fracking capital.
Mr Fallon addressed a conference aimed at convincing North West businesses of the benefits the shale gas industry could bring to them.
And speaking after his speech at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens yesterday, he said: “There’s an opportunity here for the town that is ready to seize it.
“This is an industry that’s going to develop in clusters.
“We’ve seen what happened in Aberdeen – a very small fishing harbour which has been transformed into the oil capital of Europe.
“There’s huge potential here for a town in Lancashire, Blackpool or Preston possibly, that could be the centre of a whole new industry.”
A new Ernst & Young report commissioned by the onshore oil and gas industry, which was partially funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, claims an estimated £33bn will be spent on bringing 4,000 shale wells into production in the UK by 2032.
At the conference, which was organised by the North West Energy Task Force, Mr Fallon announced tougher regulations for companies wanting to carry out fracking as well as a £2m fund to support innovative ideas to produce or explore for shale gas, particularly focused on projects reducing environmental impact.
The controversial process involves injecting liquid into the ground at high pressure to release the gas inside rock.
Mr Fallon said the Government was behind shale gas “as a priority”.
He added: “We’re at the start of what I think is one of the most exciting industrial journeys of our lifetime.
“The Government is committed to playing its part in the development of this new industry.
“I think we will look back on this conference, perhaps in five years time, and say the search for shale got serious and started here.”
Protestors held an all-day protest outside the Winter Gardens. Claire McKenna, founder of Frack Free Blackpool, said: “We’re hoping to send a message loud and clear to Michael Fallon.
“We do not want fracking on the Fylde coast or anywhere in the UK, and we want to raise awareness among the local community.
“Fracking actually doesn’t really bring jobs into the local community because it’s specialist workers who get shipped in from wherever they’ve previously drilled.”