UK firm IGas says there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet of gas in the areas it is licensed to explore in northern England, reports The BBC.
Shale gas is extracted by fracking – pumping water and sand at high pressure into rock to release gas within it.
Critics say it may cause earth tremors and want investment in green energy.
Fracking has revolutionised the US energy market and the energy industry has hopes for a similar transformation in the UK.
IGas is one of the companies granted a licence by UK authorities to explore parts of the country believed to contain large resources of shale gas.
The company’s licences cover an area of 300 sq miles across Cheshire.
It had previously said it had about nine trillion cubic feet of shale gas. It now estimates that the volume of “gas initially in place” could range from 15.1 trillion cubic feet to 172.3 trillion cubic feet – nearly 20 times more.
The UK’s annual gas consumption is currently about 3 trillion cubic feet.
“The licences have a very significant shale gas resource with the potential to transform the company and materially benefit the communities in which we operate,” said IGas chief executive Andrew Austin.
“Our estimates for our area alone could mean that the UK would not have to import gas for a period of 10 to 15 years”.
Mr Austin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the discovery could also boost employment in the area: “We believe that there could be 25,000 to 40,000 direct jobs in the shale gas industry over the next 20 years.”
Gas and oil discoveries in shale rock in the US have led to a boom in gas and oil production there recent years, and have also dramatically reduced gas prices.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the US will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest gas producer by 2015, and Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer by about 2020.
The shale gas industry is in its infancy in the UK. But supporters believe it could play a key role in our future energy supplies.
A report by the British Geological Survey for the Department of Energy and Climate Change is due to give an updated assessment of how much gas there is in the Bowland Shale in the North West of England in the coming weeks.
Industry sources have told the BBC they expect the BGS assessment to result in a “very big number”.