ONE of Scotland’s largest private firms is to launch a sustained counter-offensive against the country’s green lobby, after accusing senior environmentalists of embarking on a campaign of scaremongering and hypocrisy against fracking.

Ineos, which owns the Grangemouth industrial complex, has become embroiled in a bitter public row with Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Green Party. Gary Haywood, CEO of Ineos Shale, hit out at "years of scaremongering", accusing opponents of failing to provide credible evidence to back up claims that exploiting domestic shale gas reserves is more environmentally risky than realistic alternatives.

Insiders confirmed that a move to submit an article to the pro-Scottish independence news website CommonSpace, in which Mr Haywood claimed critics had been "blinded" by an anti-fossil fuel agenda, signalled a significant change of direction for Ineos.

Until now the firm, which contributes four per cent of Scottish GDP, has made limited public interventions in the debate, preferring to let a moratorium over fracking ahead of a final decision next year run its course. But an insider confirmed: "We have decided, from now on, to focus on the hypocrisy of the other side."

Ineos yesterday revealed details of private conversations with Dr Richard Dixon, the Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, claiming he had refused to meet with the firm to debate his concerns. Mr Haywood also attacked Mary Church, the charity's head of campaigns, saying her claims "starkly exposes a fundamental misunderstanding" of issues around fracking and had issued statements that flew "completely in the face of the facts."

Ineos has challenged opponents to set out how exploiting indigenous gas reserves is less environmentally or ethically viable than relying on overseas imports or, alternatively, to explain how society could reduce its reliance on gas. The company is to begin shipping US shale gas across the Atlantic to Grangemouth from September.

Mr Haywood said: "The UK currently imports around 50 per cent of its gas from overseas due to the decline in production of gas from the North Sea. This means that every pound the UK spends on imported gas leaves the country and does not return.

"Indigenous shale gas would not compete with North Sea gas, it would reduce imports, which would reduce emissions, and would provide the UK with a secure supply that is produced under the strict HSE standards we employ in the UK, as well as providing jobs in the UK and taxation to the country. There is no credible scenario where gas does not provide a large part of our energy needs for decades to come.

"We believe it is now time that Scottish Friends of the Earth and the Greens acknowledge that Scotland needs gas for decades to come, that an indigenous supply from under our feet is better for both the climate and the economy."

Ms Church accused Ineos of taking her previous statements out of context. She said: "The fact is that if Scotland is to do its fair share of the global effort to stop irreversible climate change we must rapidly phase out the production and use of gas in our energy sector.

"The Paris Agreement is clear that we should be aiming to limit global warming to 1.5C in order to avoid devastating impacts for the world's most vulnerable nations. We cannot burn both our offshore resources and our onshore resources without taking up far more than our fair share of the remaining global carbon budget. There is simply not enough time and atmospheric space left to develop a new source of fossil fuel if we are serious about climate justice. "