AN earthquake which caused devastating damage in central Oklahoma, where there is widespread use of fracking, shows why Scotland should introduce a permanent ban on the controversial practice, former First Minister Henry McLeish claimed.

McLeish made the comments after a visit to the region, which had only the sixth Category 5.0 earthquake in state history, reawakening concerns that oil and gas activity could be causing the tremors.

The quake damaged buildings and gas lines, forcing downtown residents to flee. It was felt as far away as Kansas City, Missouri, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Oklahoma has seen a severe spike in earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or higher since 2008, when energy companies ramped up their hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas in the state,

George Choy, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado, said: "The oil companies have said for a long time that these are natural earthquakes, that they would have occurred anyway. But when you look at the statistics, that argument does not fly.”

McLeish said the experiences of Oklahoma should act as a warning to Scotland about the possible consequences of fracking. He called on Scottish ministers to introduce a permanent ban on the drilling technique.

The Scottish Government has imposed a moratorium on fracking while collecting and considering scientific evidence, as well as holding a public consultation on the issue.

However, McLeish, who was Labour First Minister from 2000 to 2001, said the Scottish Government should learn from the experiences of Oklahoma and take action to prevent earth tremors occurring in Scotland.

He said: "On a recent visit to Tulsa I was shocked to see headlines in one of the big US newspaper about this. It's in a state that's staunchly Republican and very conservative, now in a state of disbelief that such seismic activity could happen.

"Seeing that the people of Oklahoma are rethinking their safety after such terrible events is another wake up call about why the big oil and gas interests shouldn't dominate our thinking on energy.

"There's no particular reason why Scotland should go down this particular route and it would do enormous harm to moves to promote renewables. We should look at the experiences in other parts of the world such as in this area of America and the ban on fracking in Scotland should become permanent.

"It remains to be seen what would happen in Scotland, but we've got to look at the dangers that there are elsewhere in the world. It would be foolish of us to ignore the plight of others and we have to learn the lessons from what's happened in Oklahoma.

"The oil and gas lobby is keen to say that fracking is safe, but clearly that's not the case. But what we've seen is a crisis in Oklahoma, deep in the heart of the traditional oil and gas industry."

However, the GMB trade union, which opposes a ban on fracking, said the practice could boost jobs and the economy.

A GMB Scotland spokesperson said: "Evidence that's been given to the Scottish Government has demonstrated that fracking is safe in Scotland and that it represents an opportunity to have a properly regulated shale gas supply that could be pivotal in the supply of affordable gas. It could be an important tool in tackling fuel poverty and boosting the economy and jobs."

A Scottish Government spokesperson, in response to McLeish, said: “The Scottish Government’s moratorium means fracking cannot take place here. The energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, is pursuing a cautious, evidence-led approach to this important issue.

“That is why he recently published a series of independent reports on the potential health, economic and environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas extraction. This included an extensive review of the evidence on seismicity by experts at the British Geological Survey.

“These comprehensive reports will help inform the Scottish Government’s public consultation, which we will launch as promised early next year.”