AROUND 60,000 responses have been submitted to the SNP Government’s consultation on fracking - double the number generated by the original independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon revealed the figure at First Minister’s Questions in response to a point from Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

The consultation on whether to allow the controversial gas extraction technique closed a fortnight ago, and the government response is due later this year.

The 2012 consultation on the independence referendum received 26,219 responses, but the record remains 77,500 for a 2011 listening exercise on same-sex marriage.

Critics say fracking, which involves pumping water and chemicals into underground shale beds to release methane gas, is a threat to pollution, public health and the climate.

Advocates, including Grangemouth owners Ineos, argue fracking teh Central Belt shale beds would provide jobs and reduce the need to import shale gas from the US.

A moratorium on fracking has been in place in Scotland since January 2015.

Mr Harvie said numerous studies had linked chemicals used in fracking, such as benzene and silica dust, to cancer and lung damage, and reminded Ms Sturgeon the SNP manifesto said it would be banned unless proven “beyond doubt” to be safe.

He said: "The scale of the public response is unprecedented, and it's clear only a full, permanent ban will do."

Ms Sturgeon said responses were still being verified but “about 60,000” had arrived, with a “considerable number” via postcard and petition campaigns.

She said the government remained committed to its timetable for decision and to giving MSPs a vote on the issue.

She added: “I would continue to describe myself as somebody who is personally very sceptical about fracking.

“What we said in our manifesto on the subject absolutely stands, and that is the standard by which we will assess the issue.”