A new coalition of 26 community and environmental groups is urging the Scottish ­Government to ban fracking for shale gas and drilling for underground coal-gas.

The groups, led by Concerned Communities of Falkirk (CCoF) and Friends Of The Earth Scotland, are demanding a moratorium on unconventional gas development in Scotland, saying risks to public health, staff and the environment are "impossible to regulate away."

They also want Scottish ministers to stop 22 wells to extract coalbed methane in Falkirk and Stirling. Some 2500 people objected to them and they were the subject of a public inquiry in March and April.

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The groups have written a joint letter to the Scottish Government, published in the Sunday Herald today. They include residents' organisations from Cumbernauld, Canonbie, Edinburgh, the Highlands and other worried communities.

Other signatories are trade union Unison, the Women's Environmental Network Scotland, the Scottish Hazards Campaign, and Stirling University environmental health professors Andrew Watterson and Rory O'Neill.

The letter questions the value of unconventional gas, and condemns Westminster's "gung-ho" approach".

As well as coalbed methane plans in Falkirk and Stirling, much of Scotland has been opened up for shale-gas fracking. Proposals were unveiled last week to gasify coal reserves under the Firth of Forth.

"I've seen growing - compelling - evidence from other countries of serious potential threats to health, water, land and air," said Dr Carol Williams of CCoF. Susan Hamilton of the Halt Unconventional Gas Extraction (HUGE) group, which involves 500 people and is opposing plans to exploit coalbed methane in Cumbernauld, said: "This is now becoming a moral fight against the oil and gas companies and the UK Government."

Scott Donohoe, chairman of Unison's health and safety committee in Scotland, said: "We need to proceed with great care on this due to problems in the US and elsewhere with the quality of the water."

Dart Energy has been exploring unconventional gas sources in Scotland. The firm that last month took it over, iGas, said onshore oil and gas had been safely explored in Scotland since 1851. It highlighted a recent expert report for the Scottish Government concluding shale gas could be safely extracted.

"A number of leading scientific and industry expert reports have all concluded that any potential risks associated with the extraction of natural gas from shale are low and can be managed in a properly regulated industry," said iGas's chief executive, Andrew Austin.

A spokesman for Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP said Scotland had a strong regulatory framework, and would strengthen it. The Scottish National Party resolved on Friday to call for "continued caution in our approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction".

The spokesman added: "We have also recently tightened planning policy on this issue, including bringing in buffer zones - a move welcomed by environmental groups."

Letters: Page 41