Residents in Airth and Larbert could face a wait of more than a year for a decision on whether plans to extract coalbed methane near their homes will be allowed.
Dart Energy has applied to drill 22 bore holes across Letham Moss to allow them to extract natural gas from underground. The company claims the scheme could power hundreds of homes and provide a cash windfall for nearby communities.
The plans are being vigorously opposed by Concerned Communities of Falkirk, an umbrella group that includes several community councils, on grounds that it could cause severe environmental damage.
A public inquiry scrutinising Dart’s proposals will begin on March 18 and is expected to last for around three weeks.
Similar enquiries can take more than six months, reviewing evidence before issuing a recommendation to the Scottish Government – which ministers can choose to ignore before making a final decision.
The last such investigation in the Falkirk district took place in Grangemouth in May 2012 into plans to build a biomass energy plant at the town’s docks.
Ministers eventually gave official backing in June last year.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Proposals for coalbed methane or shale gas production in Scotland will be studied on their merits.
“Each proposal will be considered through the normal planning process and the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s updated guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane published in December 2012.
“Following the inquiry and hearing sessions, the reporters appointed by Scottish ministers, will carefully consider the evidence and information before them and go on to make their decision.”