PROTESTERS have pledged to step up their campaign of action against plans to drill for methane in the central belt.

The warning came after demonstrations took place at the weekend in Stirling against international drilling company Dart Energy's plans to drill in 22 wells on 14 sites in the Forth Valley.

Last year Dart was granted exploratory licences by two councils as part of its £300 million deal to supply gas to energy giant SSE.

However, Mike Ferrigan, who is leading the fight against the project, said coal-bed methane extractions would be harmful to the environment and to human life. He said the protests, backed by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, would continue until "the drilling companies packed up and went home"

Mr Ferrigan added: "Dart have told the Australian Stock Exchange they plan to use controversial fracking technique here.

"That's worrying, because coal-bed methane extraction generally involves tapping into caverns in which methane gas is contained. Fracking involves using high- pressure blasting of rocks and soil with water and chemicals to release the gas.

"The problem with fracking is it's so hard to control, and methane can be released into the environment."

Mr Ferrigan added: "The drilling companies also add toxic chemicals to the water, and this polluted water could then find its way into the Firth of Forth. Incredibly, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have no control over this."

A public inquiry is to be held in Stirling.

Dart has insisted its "focus of operations" in Scotland is the exploitation of coal-bed methane.

It said there were no plans to exploit shale gas in the central belt, or to use fracking.