SCOTLAND'S pro-shale gas lobby is fighting hard to win public acceptance for fracking. It is under no illusions that it faces an uphill struggle.

This week, on a coach to Shanghai, the boss of the firm that is already bringing shale gas to Scotland by importing it from America expressed exasperation at the opposition to his plans to create an indigenous supply, giving a rare interview to The Herald.

"I don't know who these people are, really," sighed Jim Ratcliffe, the self-made billionaire and boss of Ineos, when asked for his thoughts on the vocal footsoldiers in the war against fracking. "They don't deal in many facts."

If, as expected, testing shows substantial shale rock reserves, Ineos want to drill wells across central Scotland. The gas extracted, through a process that sees narrow holes drilled deep into the earth and water, sand and chemicals injected into rock at high pressure, would be used as a base ingredient at its sprawling Grangemouth petrochemical plant, which is to remain open as a result of imported gas fracked in the US arriving on huge purpose-built ships, and as an energy source.

The vision will excite some, but terrify many more who fear earth tremors, pollution or detrimental impacts on health. Concerns based on misinformation, say Ineos, which accepts there are risks but insists they can be safely managed with stringent regulation.

It argues a cheap and plentiful supply of indigenous fracked gas would attract multiple businesses, some becoming part of an industry supply chain similar to Aberdeen. They would pay taxes and create well-paid jobs, with six per cent of shale gas revenues to be given away to local communities. Should Scotland become a European leader in fracking, expertise and infrastructure would be exported overseas.

Tom Crotty, the Ineos director sitting alongside his boss, said the Firth of Forth could become a global hub for the petrochemical industry, comparable to Antwerp or Rotterdam. "I talk to Scottish Enterprise [the Scottish Government quango] about it and they get very excited," he reveals.

The decision over whether the first well will ever be drilled will almost certainly rest with Nicola Sturgeon. Her Government called a moratorium on fracking in January which looks to have been a political device for deployment during a general election campaign. For its part, senior figures at Ineos are frustrated that the debate has become so emotive and politically charged.

Even Mr Crotty admitted that, six months on, it was unclear whether the moratorium covered test drilling, although the firm is pushing ahead with plans.

On some counts, the SNP appears to have left substantial wiggle room. "An evidenced-base approach" is the official mantra. Significant perhaps as most recent evidence - including reports already commissioned by the Scottish Government and a study this week led by former Labour culture secretary Lord Chris Smith - backed up the claim that risks can be managed.

Yet, lower down the scale, the SNP has presented its position as rather different, adopting the 'Frack Off' slogan - widely used by vociferous anti-fracking campaigners - during the general election campaign. An SNP graphic was headlined 'Frack Free Scotland' and widely circulated. Its manifesto promised to "continue to support" the moratorium.

It is therefore no surprise that some voters, and indeed party members, have come to the conclusion that the party is opposed to fracking, explaining why Mr Ratcliffe's comments this week, revealing that he had been privately assured that the SNP Government is "not against" the technique, caused such a stir. Mr Crotty seemed surprised when shown some of the SNP's messaging, initially assuming it was the work of party members acting independently. "But that's definitely not their official policy" he correctly observed, after learning Frack Off posters and badges were the work of party HQ.

So where does the SNP go if the promised new research backs up previous studies and fracking gets a cautious thumbs up? Ineos representatives attending a series of town hall events in a bid to win over communities to fracking observed that many outspoken opponents turned up in SNP or pro-independence regalia. Among the party’s tens of thousands of new members at least, many appear to see fracking as something to be opposed at all costs. Would the First Minister risk alienating them, potentially pushing them into the arms of the rapidly-expanding Greens?

But then a thriving shale gas industry has revolutionised the US economy. John Swinney is already agitating for potentially huge fracking revenues to go straight into Scottish Government coffers, a move that would fund public services and - perhaps one day - boost the economic case for independence.

Of course, testing may yet show that shale gas reserves are less plentiful than Ineos hope, rendering the debate redundant. If the alternative comes to pass, the First Minister will have a rather messy dilemma on her hands. It will be one, in part, of her party's own making.