A landmark public inquiry is to be held into proposals for unconventional gas extraction after more than 2500 people objected to an energy firm's plan to intensify drilling operations in Scotland.

Dart Energy wants to expand work on extracting coal-bed methane at Airth near Falkirk and connect to the energy network for the first time. Dart extracts gas by pumping water into the coal bed.

The Scottish Government has confirmed a public inquiry will be held into the firm's proposals to bore 22 new coal-bed methane wells after both Stirling and Falkirk councils failed to make a decision on the plans.

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Buffer zones between residential areas and drilling sites are proposed.

Dart has stressed its plan does not include fracking, the controversial extraction method which uses a mix of water, chemicals and other materials to crack open reserves.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said Scotland could expect the same levels of protest if Dart Energy's proposals for Airth, which covers a site including Letham Moss and Powdrake Farm in Stirling, are approved after the public inquiry.

Dr Dixon said: "It is the only live application in Scotland and people are right to be concerned."

He claimed fracking had been introduced at a high number of coal-bed methane wells in Australia to extract the last stores of gas. It is understood further planning permission would not be needed in Scotland if Dart resorts to the method in the future.

Dr Dixon added: "The experience in Australia in that 40% of coal-bed methane wells end up being fracked. Dart may say that we don't frack but of course they could come back in five years time and need to do this. If these current plans are approved, then it will be very difficult for the Government to stop."

Fracking and other unconventional gas-extraction techniques have unlocked massive new supplies of oil and natural gas from shale and coal seams, revolutionising the energy industry and boosting local economies in the United States. Chancellor George Osborne has ­promised tax breaks for the fracking industry.

Critics claim there is a risk of gas leakage and harmful toxins being left behind. The Scottish Government has proposed in its new planning policy, which is currently under consultation, that such buffers should be considered. Dart said a case-management meeting would be held in October ahead of the public inquiry.

Operations have also wound down at the Airth site as the planning process takes its course.

Dart has a £300m deal with a subsidary of Scottish Southern Energy to produce gas for the network.

Ed Pybus of protest group Frack Off Scotland said the inquiry "will allow Dart Energy to explain more fully its proposals and give the community a chance to express its concerns."

The Government said it recognises coal-bed methane could be an important future fuel and would judge applications on their merits.