DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney met the firm behind plans for a large-scale fracking industry after the Scottish Government announced a halt to the controversial gas extraction technique.

Swinney met Ineos representatives at a time when his party was cranking up its opposition to fracking ahead of the general election.

In public, the SNP has taken a hard-line against fracking, a controversial form of extraction that involves drilling on-shore for shale and coal seam gas.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Government announced on a moratorium in January and her party issued green badges which included the SNP ribbon and the ‘Frack Off’ slogan before the May poll.

Fergus Ewing, the Energy Minister, explained at the time of the moratorium that the curb related to the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments.

He said the ban would be in place until a public consultation was completed.

However, it was then revealed that Sturgeon met Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe on the day the moratorium was announced.

Ineos holds exploration licenses across hundreds of square miles in central Scotland and is committed to developing a fracking industry.

In a recent interview, Ratcliffe claimed that the SNP did not oppose fracking:

"[The Scottish Government] are being quite clear. What they've said to us is they're not against fracking. But what they do need to do is get comfortable with whether they're happy with the risks of fracking in Scotland. They want to spend a couple of years understanding it in more detail.

“I think that's a responsible thing for them to do and say. We don't need to do any fracking for the next couple of years. What we'd like to do is just drill a couple of holes, do the seismic, and just find out what's down there."

An updated list of ministerial engagements reveals that Swinney, who is both Finance Secretary and deputy first minister, met Ineos along with the Scotland Secretary in February.

However, while the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was pro-fracking, the Scottish Government is publicly sceptical.

Swinney also met Ineos in November.

It also emerged last week that the moratorium does not include a ban on underground coal gasification (UCG), which is similar to fracking.

The loophole became clear last week following the publication of a letter from planning Minister Alex Neil to entrepreneur Algy Cluff, whose company is committed to UCG in the Forth.

Neil told the businessman that “the moratorium does not apply to the offshore underground gasification of coal”.

SNP MPs have since argued that UCG should be covered by the moratorium.

Scottish Labour's Shadow Energy Minister Lewis Macdonald said:

"The SNP's position on fracking is an absolute mess. They stood for election claiming to be anti-fracking but in private SNP Ministers tell big businesses not to worry. Even the SNP's own MPs and MSPs are demanding clarity. We need a very clear statement from the SNP Government about exactly what their policy is on fracking and unconventional gas extraction. When Parliament returns in September Scottish Government Ministers must make a full statement on this issue.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said:

“On February 12, Mr Swinney met with Ineos along with the Secretary of State for Scotland at Grangemouth. He also met with the company at the Scottish Parliament on November 25. Jim Ratcliffe was at neither meeting. hese were among the regular meetings that ministers have with the whole range of stakeholders in the energy and environmental sector, which are listed in the Government’s regular publication of ministerial engagements.”