THE SNP is under fire after its MSPs were spoon-fed the “lines” to take on the government’s position on fracking.

A central office researcher supplied a list of arguments MSPs could use to back the SNP administration if contacted by concerned members of the public.

Fracking is an energy extraction process by which a high-pressure water mixture is unleashed at underground rock to release gas.

Backers believe the creation of a fracking industry north of the border would have huge economic benefits, while opponents are fearful of the environmental costs.

In January last year, the SNP Government announced a moratorium on granting fracking consents and backed an extensive programme of research and consultation.

The Sunday Herald last week revealed that Ministers had commissioned three pieces of research on controversial aspects of fracking.

This included the decommissioning of sites used for unconventional oil and gas facilities, community impacts, and levels “seismic activity”.

Critics, including many SNP members, are fearful the Government is softening its opposition to fracking and preparing a post-election u-turn.

Last week, an SNP researcher acknowledged questions were being asked of the policy.

In an email to all MSPs, he wrote: “I understand that a number of MSPs have been receiving emails raising concerns over unconventional oil and gas, following the confirmation of 3 research contracts into this.

“In light of this, I am re-circulating the lines below, which may be of use when responding.”

The “key points” he flagged up for MSPs related to the Government’s position.

The email read: “The Scottish Government has been clear all along that research into unconventional oil and gas would take place – the tendering process opened last December and the Scottish Government announced this at the time. The recently announced contracts are the result of that process.

“This research is in line with the Scottish Government’s stated aim of understanding all potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas – it is fundamentally important that we fully understand the potential impacts before any decision is made.”

On Ministers announcing research into the decommissioning of fracking sites, which critics believe is a sign the Government is intent on building them in the first place, the researcher suggested the following as a line:

“When the Scottish Government announced in October that this research would take place, it was clear that investigations into site decommissioning and aftercare would form part of this, with the clear aim of understanding all potential impacts.”

Patrick Harvie MSP, the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, said: "This inquiry is beginning to look more like a project plan for the fracking industry than the public health assessment we were promised.

"Let's not forget that the opinion of most voters and even many SNP members on fracking has been crystal clear for some time now. They don't need it, they don't want it, and they want their Government to put a permanent ban on it.

"The public need to feel confident that this inquiry is really focusing on what matters to Scottish people - the safety and security of our communities. It cannot just be a PR exercise for a Government that’s preparing to seal the deal with fracking companies who are eager to start reaping the profits."

Sarah Boyack MSP, the Scottish Labour spokesperson for Environmental Justice, said: "It is no surprise that SNP members are starting to get worried about their Party's position on fracking. The SNP Government is desperate to kick this issue into the long grass until after the Scottish Parliament elections. These surveys are all about how the SNP media team thinks decisions on fracking should be managed rather than whether it's a good idea in the first place.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "Staff routinely assist MSPs in responding to enquiries from constituents."