Oil rigs were set to appear off the coast of Portsmouth after the government opened up sections of the English Channel for drilling.
Industry minister Charles Wardle announced that four blocks of sea about 20 miles south of Portsmouth and Gosport were under offer to oil companies.
A Department of Trade and Industry spokesman said the blocks had been earmarked by companies who believed there was black gold beneath the sea bed after studying satellite pictures.
Although officials were stressing that Portsmouth was some way from becoming the Aberdeen of the south coast, licences for drilling were expected to be awarded the following summer.
Mr Wardle signalled the start of what could have become a Southsea oil boom at a press conference in London.