A SENIOR Scottish business figure has backed plans for Scotland to play a major part in the UK becoming a hub for European fracking operations.

Lord Smith of Kelvin highlighted how much of the manufacturing in other energy technologies such as nuclear and wind comes from outside the UK.

He believes that could be reversed for fracking and pointed out Weir Group, where he is chairman, already has about 30% of the fracking market in the US.

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Campaigners have raised many concerns over fracking – the process of drilling then injecting fluid into the ground to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas – including contamination of ground water, the amount of water used in the process and the potential damage to the environment.

However, fracking has become more common around the world, particularly in the US where it is seen as helping to reduce reliance on overseas energy.

Lord Smith stated there was already a capable skills base in Scotland that could play its part in positioning the UK as a strong player if fracking gains more of a foothold in Europe.

He said: "The guys up in the North Sea can drill, pipeline and can do just about anything and they have done it miles under the surface.

"It would be great if we had an industry here where we actually have already skilled people rather than importing."

Lord Kelvin also pointed out the Scottish connection to shale oil and the processes discovered by Scottish chemist James "Paraffin" Young.

That ambition to position the UK as a centre of excellence for fracking was backed by Weir Group chief executive Keith Cochrane, who is "encouraged" by the potential.

He said: "I would be delighted if there were opportunities and we are doing all we can to encourage the government and players in the space to get on with it.

"There is a good opportunity for the UK to become a catalyst for European development as we have all the skills up in Aberdeen and the capabilities here so it is about converting that into action.

"The approach the government has taken is very considered, very thoughtful and it is looking at this in a very mature manner."

Mr Cochrane indicated it is likely to be several years before fracking becomes more widespread.

He added: "In terms of the jobs, the tax breaks and the energy benefits that come, it ticks literally every box.

"So why not let's get on with it and take advantage of that opportunity and use it as a means for the UK to become the European hub for fracking.

"There are other shale resources in Europe but because of the North Sea angle that is in many ways the natural point or locus for the industry to develop, particularly if we can see things starting to develop in our own backyard."

The UK Onshore Operators Group last week suggested shale gas companies plan to drill between 20 and 40 exploration wells over the next three years.