Cuadrilla started construction work at the Preston New Road site, one of two that Lancashire County Council initially rejected, only to have the decision overturned last year by UK Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

A final decision on the nearby second site, Roseacre Wood, was delayed, with Javid claiming he is also minded to give permission if certain additional conditions are met.

At Preston New Road, Cuadrilla said it will now focus on building an access road and then establish a well pad and site.

Drilling is expected to start in the second quarter of 2017.

Cuadrilla previously said it plans to initially drill a pilot well to a depth of about 3500 metres to help understand more about the area’s geology and where best to drill horizontal wells.

The company said hydraulic fracturing of the first horizontal well could begin in the third quarter of 2017. By the fourth quarter, it plans to begin flow testing shale gas.

“The work will be undertaken to the highest safety and environmental standards,” said chief executive Francis Egan.

“The operations are also underpinned by comprehensive site monitoring programmes undertaken separately by ourselves, regulators and independent academics.”

“Twelve months from now we hope this work will prove the economic viability of this indigenous shale gas resource in Lancashire,” Egan said.

The operations, however, have started despite increased opposition from locals and environmental groups, which have been protesting the development of shale gas in the region.

Last month, community group Preston New Road Action Group (PNRAG) filed formal legal proceedings against the UK government over its decision to allow Cuadrilla to frack in the region.

A hearing on the issue could take place at the High Court in London early this year, however no date has yet been confirmed.