THE Scottish Government have come under renewed pressure to clarify their policy on fracking.

Friends of the Earth and opposition politicians made the call after Jim Ratcliffe, chief executive of chemical giant Ineos, said SNP ministers had told him they were “not against” fracking. Currently the Scottish Government has a moratorium on the practice “whilst further research and a public consultation is carried out”.

Speaking in January when the moratorium was put in place, energy minister Fergus Ewing said the Government would take a “cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas and fracking”.

Friends of the Earth said they were convinced Scotland will move to a “full ban on fracking” after looking at the evidence.

Grangemouth-based Ineos have fracking exploration licenses across 700 square miles of Scotland. The company is currently in the process of seeking formal permission to begin test-drilling and seismic testing immediately.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said she was hopeful the Government would bow to public pressure and keep the moratorium in place.

“We know that the Scottish Government’s moratorium is only temporary, however, the strength of public opinion on the matter that helped us achieve that measure gives me full confidence that the Scottish public will continue to be heard,” the MSP said.

“The latest comments from Mr Ratcliffe are not surprising given his vested interest, but what I would find surprising is if his vision of a Scotland with more polluting fossil fuels at the heart of our industrial future is shared by the majority of Scots.

“Scotland has what it takes to develop a jobs-rich economy focusing on a re-industrialisation programme which respects the environment, and also respects the rights of employees to organise and have their interests represented by a trade union. I hope the wishes of the Scottish electorate carry proper weight with SNP ministers.”

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “As previously published correspondence shows, the meeting with Ineos was just one of the regular meetings that ministers have with the whole range of stakeholders in the energy and environmental sector.

“Mr Ratcliffe’s comments simply reflect what we have already said publicly on this issue – no fracking can or will take place in Scotland while the moratorium we have announced remains in place, a policy that has received wide support from both environmental groups and industry. We are taking a careful, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas, and the moratorium and the planned public consultation will allow all stakeholders and local communities to have their say.”

Speaking to The Herald, Ratcliffe was reported to say: “What they’ve said to us is they’re not against fracking. But what they do need to do is get comfortable with whether they’re happy with the risks of fracking in Scotland.

“They want to spend a couple of years understanding it in more detail. I think that’s a responsible thing for them to do and say. We don’t need to do any fracking for the next couple of years. What we’d like to do is just drill a couple of holes, do the seismic, and just find out what’s down there.”

Professor Zoe Shipton from the University of Strathclyde said the debate around fracking in Scotland is being dominated by the “wrong questions”.

She said: “If you don’t have fracked gas in Scotland, where are you going to get your gas from? That’s the really important question.

“It’s not should we frack or should we not frack, that’s an element of a bigger question. Even if Scotland meets 100 per cent of its renewable energy targets we still need gas.”

She said keeping the moratorium and doing nothing would still have implications.

“Not developing onshore gas means we’re going to have do something else.”

One example of the something else was announced in Shanghai yesterday when Ineos unveiled a “virtual pipeline” across the Atlantic where, eventually, eight ships will move 40,000 barrels of fracked, liquefied gas a day from Pennsylvania via docks near Philadelphia.