IT is highly unlikely that strict regulation will fully protect Scotland's food chain against risks of contamination caused by fracking, a drilling and civil engineering expert has warned.

Professor Robert Jackson, a former academic at the University of Salford who has previously been hired as an independent expert to examine environmental issues by Scottish Water, said that if fracking went ahead, it risked compromising water supplies while fluid injected underground could poison groundwater, soil, crops, grazing land and livestock if it reached the surface.

The pro-fracking lobby has insisted that tough regulation would be imposed on any fracking activities in Scotland in a bid to reassure opponents. However, in a new paper, Professor Jackson pointed to research from the world's largest oilfield services company which estimated that 60 per cent of gas wells leak within 30 years.

Fracking sees a mixture of water, sand and chemicals pumped underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas. While wells are sealed afterwards, Professor Jackson said that within the industry, it was acknowledged that there was always a "finite risk of failure".

He added: "Even if the risks of contamination are currently perceived to be low, the very serious consequences of any leak from a bored well could have a profound effect upon the food chain for current and future generations."

Ineos, the firm that is hoping to establish a fracking industry in central Scotland, said that Professor Jackson's paper focussed on the experience in America where poor operational processes had led to contamination. It also pointed out that some of the research cited dates to 1992.

The Scottish Government has recently banned GM crops citing fears over the reputational risk to the country's £14 billion food and drink sector, but while it has imposed a moratorium on fracking, it is yet to take a final decision over whether to permit it.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said Professor Jackson had drawn "damning conclusions." He added: "There are widespread concerns about fracking, for example the risks to the water supply from pollution. However, this article arguably goes a step further by suggesting the food chain is likely to be affected by fracking and no amount of regulation can prevent that.

"The Scottish Government must be aware of this yet have only initiated a moratorium rather than an outright ban. A legitimate question that must be asked of them is when they have banned GM crops, taking a precautionary approach, why haven’t they done the same with fracking?"

Tom Pickering, Shale Operations Director for Ineos, said that the company had gone to great lengths to learn from fracking successes and failures in America and would be "extremely rigorous" in its well engineering and operational practices, with ongoing monitoring in place after they had been filled with cement and sealed.

He added: "The paper makes a number of valid points pointing to examples in America where poor operational processes have led to contamination, but it unfortunately omits to place these into the proper context that the contamination is in a relatively small number of cases compared to wells drilled... The paper also has a preponderance of ifs and maybes which the reader should take note of. The regulatory system in the UK has long been rightly very strong and will be more so in the case of onshore shale gas extraction."

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency said it had regulatory tools to ensure boreholes would be drilled in a suitable place and would be adequately constructed, maintained, decommissioned and monitored.