CHEMICALS giant Ineos has hit out at "untrue and disingenuous" arguments against fracking and challenged Scottish Labour MSPs to supply evidence that backs up demands for a ban.

The global firm, which holds fracking exploration licences across the central belt but has seen progress halted by an SNP moratorium, entered a fraught political row by disputing Labour's repeated claims that "the science is clear" against unconventional onshore gas extraction.

In a dramatic intervention, it called for a face-to-face meeting with the party to "properly understand" its concerns and to "make the case for a fair hearing for shale gas development in Scotland".

In a letter to Claudia Beamish, the Labour MSP who won the backing of Holyrood in calling for a ban earlier this month after the SNP abstained, Ineos states it is "very surprised" at her argument that a ban is justified because "the last thing our planet needs is another fossil fuel".

Labour also came under fire from ex-SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars, who in a separate intervention claimed that the anti-fracking lobby is motivated by "hysteria" that had "infected" some within his own party and that opposition could squander jobs and an opportunity to tackle fuel poverty.

Gary Haywood, chief executive of Ineos Shale, accepted the need to address climate change but argued that a "substantial" need for gas, which is far less damaging to the environment than coal, would continue with renewables unable to plug the gap for decades. He said Labour's position implies the party "is now against fossil fuel development in general" and that shale gas is "just the same" as that obtained from North Sea sandstone reservoirs.

He added that fracking had been used "extensively and safely" in the North Sea for many years and that gas is an essential raw material for everyday chemicals and plastics, with uses including production of renewables equipment.

Mr Haywood told Ms Beamish: "If you believe there is a credible way forward for our society in the near and medium term without the substantial use of gas, then I invite you to articulate what this might be. General statements such as 'renewables are the future', will not do the job.

"Too many climate campaigners... present the decision to develop shale gas as a 'fossil fuel vs renewables' debate. This is untrue and disingenuous. Renewables need to be a rapidly growing part of our energy mix. However, unless you intend to commit the people of Scotland to a near term future without sufficient heat and power, then we need to use substantial amounts of gas during the period that we are developing the renewables capacity that we need."

Ineos, which owns the giant Grangemouth industrial complex and accounts for four per cent of Scotland's GDP, has backed a Scottish Government pledge to take an "evidence based" approach to fracking, with a series of studies and a public consultation taking place to inform a decision next year.

The company argued that developing domestic gas supplies is far more environmentally friendly than relying on imports from overseas, with the future of Grangemouth dependent on shale gas being shipped across the Atlantic, and that an indigenous industry would "keep jobs and prosperity here".

It also pointed that a series of expert bodies, including a Scottish Government panel and the Royal Society of Edinburgh that said fracking, which sees a mix of water, sand and chemicals pumped deep underground to fracture shale rock and release gas, is safe if properly regulated.

Mr Sillars, in his intervention, told Labour leader Kezia Dugdale: "Misery for those who cannot turn on the heating at home is what results from policy driven by Green propaganda. You are not alone in swallowing the scaremongering. You and your Green friends seem to have infected some in the SNP as well.

"A proper Labour Party, with a commitment to the poor, would know what to do about fracking. It would recognise its potential importance; it would seek the strictest regulation; and it would make sure that the national budget, not just the coffers of the private companies, would benefit directly."

A Labour spokesman said: "At least Jim Sillars is clear in his position, unlike the SNP, who appear to be telling big business one thing behind closed doors and the Scottish public something else on the doorsteps."

Responding to the Ineos intervention, he added: "Labour will be happy to meet with representatives from Ineos, but our position is clear - no ifs, no buts, no fracking."