ON the face of it, the plans to explore Scotland's vast untapped reserves of "unconventional" gas supplies could be a positive move.

With ever-increasing gas prices and decreasing resources under the North Sea, the move could benefit the country financially and provide a secure source of energy for decades to come. Scotland, rich in methane gas because of its coal reserves, seems ideally placed to take advantage of new technologies.

However, the risks must be fully considered. Research from other countries suggests chemicals used to extract unconventional gas may have long-term health effects.

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Environmental watchdogs in Scotland have also warned that the controversial technique of "fracking" for gas could bring radioactive waste to the surface. Meanwhile, hundreds of local communities are already protesting about plans to extract methane from coalbeds under areas near Falkirk and Stirling, with concerns over the risk of gas explosions to nearby railways and houses.

Before we rush to embrace a new gas boom, it is vital the public is given information on the potential risks that opening up huge swathes of Scotland for underground gas drilling could bring. If these are not fully known, a full review should be carried out to ensure unconventional gas extraction is safe.

George Osborne says families "should not be left behind" when it comes to reducing gas prices. But the rush to embrace unconventional gas should not come at the expense of health or the environment.