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Scottish Fracking Rights
Nine companies have applied for licences to carry out fracking operations beneath 1,900 sq km of land in Scotland, it has been revealed. The information was given by the UK government in response to a freedom of information request by the Ferret investigative journalism website.
It did not disclose who the companies were or where they have applied to extract shale gas.
But Scotland's shale reserves are said to be focused in the central belt.
The UK government's Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been offering exclusive rights to exploit onshore oil and gas resources under its 14th licensing round.
But a decision on who will be awarded the licences in Scotland, and whether they should be awarded at all, will not be taken until after full powers over fracking are devolved to Holyrood under the Scotland Bill.
The Scottish government placed a temporary moratorium on fracking in January while a study was carried out into is potential impact.
In its response to the Ferret, the DECC said a total of nine companies had applied for the rights to 19 blocks in Scotland, each covering 100 sq km.
But the DECC said it could not name the companies, or say where the blocks were, for commercial confidentiality reasons.
Stuart Haszeldine, a professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh, told the Ferret: "It is very likely most of the applications for shale exploitation by fracking will focus around east Glasgow, north Lanarkshire, the northwest corner of south Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Edinburgh city, southwest and south coastal Fife, Midlothian and the north west of East Lothian."
These areas were identified in a British Geological Survey (BGS) study of the Midland Valley - which runs across central Scotland - as having the greatest potential for shale extraction.
The BGS report suggested there was only a "modest" amount of shale oil and gas in place in the area, with its central estimate for shale gas put at 80 trillion cubic feet, and its central estimate for shale oil put at six billion barrels
Anti-fracking campaigners have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the controversial technique, which they argue is "dirty and dangerous".
But supporters accuse environmental groups of scaremongering on the issue, and say shale gas extraction is an important potential energy source that could become a major new industry for Scotland.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside.
The extensive use of fracking in the US, where it has revolutionised the energy industry, has prompted environmental concerns.
The first is that fracking uses huge amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost.
The second is the worry that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site.
But the industry suggests fracking of shale gas could contribute significantly to the UK's future energy needs.