GAS and oil companies have called on the Scottish Government to offer more support for fracking.

The industry body representing onshore exploration companies yesterday stepped up pressure on ministers to get behind the controversial extraction technique.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the UK Onshore Operators Group, said the industry could create jobs, safeguard the future of the Grangemouth refinery and improve Scotland's energy security.

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Speaking after addressing a committee of MSPs, he said: "I don't think it makes sense for one of our biggest industries, Grangemouth, to be importing raw materials from the US when we can produce them in Scotland.

"Scotland does extremely well in terms of renewable energy but the reality is 79% of our heating and cooking comes from gas.

"By 2030 most of that will come from outside the UK so it makes sense for us to have some energy security."

Fracking - hydraulic fracturing - involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground under extreme pressure to crack shale rock and release the gas. Opponents have raised concerns about possible environmental damage and harm to property.

Prime Minister David Cameron intervened last month to encourage fracking schemes south of the border.

The Scottish Government has taken a more cautious approach, stressing any planning bids would be "studied on their merits".

A survey published yesterday by the UK's Department For Energy And Climate Change said 27% of people backed fracking, 21% were opposed and 48% neither opposed nor supported it.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: "Shale gas has the potential to reduce fuel poverty and create thousands of well-paid jobs. The Scottish Government must use this evidence as a green light to fully support fracking."

Holyrood's economy committee is looking at Scottish Government proposals for a 2km buffer zone between any fracking sites and areas of housing.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it recognised the "potential" for unconventional gas but was taking a "balanced, responsible, evidence-based approach to its development".