Fracking firm Cuadrilla Resources said it has discovered a "very sizeable quantity" of natural gas at its exploration site in Lancashire as it prepares to drill what will be the UK's first horizontal well in shale rock.
The fresh data, acquired by recovering some 375 feet of core samples from a well at the Preston New Road site, suggests the rock quality is excellent for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and holds a high natural gas content in several zones within the shale.
Cuadrilla said it is "exceptionally well positioned to drill its first two horizontal wells into the gas rich zones".
Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, said the new data gives him "great confidence".
"Cuadrilla has planning permission to drill up to four exploratory horizontal wells in the shale rock underlying its site at Preston New Road. The initial vertical sections of the first two of these wells have both now been drilled and we have just commenced the drilling of what will be the first horizontal well in UK shale," Egan said.
Fracking is likely to begin in the second quarter of 2018, the firm said.
Permission to start fracking at the Preston New Road site was granted in October 2016 by communities secretary Javid, who overruled an earlier decision from Lancashire County Council, and work began in January last year.
In April 2017, a High Court judge dismissed two legal challenges by anti-fracking protesters over the way Javid granted planning permission for the site.
Preston New Road Action Group appealed against the decision, but today the Court of Appeal also dismissed the claims and refused permission for the parties to appeal at the Supreme Court.
Egan said Cuadrilla was pleased the challenges were "robustly dismissed".
"Local businesses and workers in Lancashire continue to benefit from the significant investment and jobs that our operations are bringing to the county," he said.
About the firm's gas findings, Ken Cronin, the chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, added: "This is not just good news for Cuadrilla, but also for Lancashire, which has seen nearly £5m worth of investment into its local economy and over 50 jobs created in the area since the company relocated to Lancashire in 2016."
Cuadrilla earlier this week won approval to explore for oil in the West Sussex village of Balcombe, another area that has attracted large anti-fracking protests.