DART Energy, the gas exploration and production company, has cranked up the pressure in its bid to extract coal-bed methane gas from coal seams near Airth in the Central Belt.

The company has appealed directly to the Scottish Government to hear its case while planners at two local councils, Falkirk and Stirling, weigh up what one described as a "complex planning application".

The plans have raised a range of environmental concerns and attracted public opposition. A decision on the application has been delayed by four months so far, with no sign yet when a view will be taken.

Dart insists its proposals do not involve fracking, a controversial technique that involves the use of drilling and injecting fluid at high pressure to open up fissures in rocks, allowing natural gas to be extracted.

The firm said it was not seeking to circumvent local planning rules by appealing directly to ministers, with a spokesman saying discussions with the councils had been "very constructive".

The company's general manager for Europe, Mark Lapping, said: "We very much hope that in giving full consideration to the application the Scottish Government will recognise the strategic importance of Dart's investment and the value of this vital natural resource to Scotland's overall energy mix."

Ian Dryden, development manager at Falkirk Council, said the plans "raised a number of significant environmental related issues and received substantial public representation which must be fully considered".