SCOTTISH Ministers have announced three controversial pieces of research into fracking, fuelling fears the Government will back the disputed energy extraction method after the election.

The work was unveiled on Friday and covers the decommissioning of fracking facilities and estimating the “seismic activity” associated with the technique.

Fracking is the process by which a high-pressure water mixture is fired at underground rock to release gas.

However, it is fiercely opposed by campaigners who believe fracking causes environmental damage.

The Government, facing demands to ban the practice, announced a moratorium last year on granting consents for fracking until research and a public consultation was carried out.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing promised to commission a full public health impact assessment, conduct further work into planning guidance, and look at tightening environmental regulation.

Two days ago, following a competitive tender process, details of three contracts appeared on the official public service portal.

The first piece of research, which will be carried out by the British Geological Survey, aims to “better understand” the “levels of induced seismic activity" that could be associated with fracking.

Another objective is to understand the actions that can be taken to “mitigate any noticeable effects on communities”.

The research must also consider each stage of an unconventional oil and gas development, such exploration, appraisal and production.

The second research item - secured by AECOM - is examining the steps that can be taken to ensure “decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare” can be done in a way that minimises the impact on communities and the environment.

The Herald:

Finally, the third contract focuses on understanding community level impacts.

This includes looking at traffic volumes in locations close to fracking sites and will be done by Ramboll Environ UK Limited.

Research on the economic impacts of fracking will also be undertaken by KPMG.

Campaigners are nervous about the timing of the projects because the research will only be completed after the next election.

The briefs also appear to be based on scenarios where fracking exists north of the border.

The Scottish Government has stuck to its moratorium, but it is feared Ministers may give the green light to a fracking development after May.

It emerged last year that First Minister held talks with Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe on the same day her Government announced a moratorium.

Ineos, which owns the sprawling plant at Grangemouth, holds fracking exploration licences across 700 square miles of the country.

The company has most to lose from a Government decision that closed the door on fracking altogether.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: "The SNP have prevented their members debating fracking at their conference but have taken donations from a fracking developer. Their agency SEPA has been caught out developing a "communications strategy" for fracking and now we see the Scottish Government issuing contracts for the decommissioning of fracking machinery.

“It is clear that the ‘moratorium’ is a sham and that they are planning for fracking in Scotland after the May elections."

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "Rather than commissioning this work the Scottish Government should be listening to climate science and concerned communities and banning fracking now."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "No fracking can or will take place while the Scottish Government’s moratorium on unconventional oil and gas remains in place. The Scottish Government has publicly committed to carry out one of the world’s most wide ranging research programmes into fracking and an extensive public consultation which will allow interested parties to express their views.

“We appreciate there are strong views on the different sides of the debate on unconventionals but welcome that both the environmental NGOs and the industry support our moratorium and plans for research and consultation. Research has been commissioned on the environmental, climate change, public health and economic issues associated with unconventional oil and gas in order to fully inform public debate.”