Nicola Sturgeon yesterday refused to rule out giving the green light to fracking next year - but aides insisted she is “highly sceptical” about the process.
Bosses at the Grangemouth pertrochemical plant warned it could risk a “once in a generation” chance to secure thousands of jobs.
Fracking is a means of extracting natural gas through “hydraulic fracturing” of underground shale rocks which allows hydrocarbons like methane to escape and be collected. It has prompted environmental concerns over potential earthquakes and water contamination, but a recent Scottish Government report suggested it is safe.
• READ MORE: SNP narrowly votes against all-out fracking ban
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale yesterday thrust the issue to the heart of the Holyrood election campaign as she clashed with Ms Sturgeon yesterday.
“Scottish Labour will go into the election with a very clear manifesto commitment,” she said.
“We will oppose fracking. A moratorium is not an outright ban; it’s only a temporary stoppage. Her maybes aye, maybes naw response can mean only one thing – Nicola Sturgeon plans to give the green light if she is re-elected in May.”
Jim Radcliffe, the boss of Grangemouth owner Ineos, claimed last year to have received private assurances from the SNP Government that it is not against fracking. The pertrochemical plant at Grangemouth, Scotland’s biggest industrial site, currently relies on imported shale gas from the US. The firm is keen to start domestic fracking in Scotland.
But Ms Sturgeon’s opposition appeared to harden after Labour’s intervention.
A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “The First Minister is highly sceptical about fracking, but unlike Kezia Dugdale we will continue to be led by the evidence.”
But a spokeswoman for Ineos added: “Shale gas offers Scotland a once in a generation opportunity to secure much needed jobs and investment across the nation. We are certain that Shale gas can be extracted safely.”