THE Scottish Government has come under fire for another delay on a final decision on fracking, opting instead for further consultation.

Ministers announced an “effective ban” on the unconventional oil and gas extraction technique in 2017 and, following a legal challenge from petrochemical firm Ineos, a Court of Session ruling last June found no prohibition against fracking in Scotland.

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The Scottish Government had said it would inform the Scottish Parliament of its finalised policy in the first three months of this year, but Energy Minster Paul Wheelhouse yesterday announced that a further eight-week public consultation will be held, expected to start after April 21.

He announced the new consultation in response to a parliamentary question on fracking, adding: “Our final policy on unconventional oil and gas will be confirmed and adopted as soon as possible after this process is complete.”

Now Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES) has said legal opinion from Aidan O’Neill QC has shown the Scottish Parliament can pass a law to ban the technique, which would make legal challenges from companies with an interest in it less likely to succeed.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at FoES, said the Scottish Government should stop dilly-dallying.

“Communities on the frontline of this dirty industry who have been waiting for more than four years for the Scottish Government to bring its long-drawn-out process on unconventional oil and gas to an end, now face even further delay,” she said.

Holyrood has the power to ban fracking – it’s time for the Scottish Government to stop dilly-dallying, have the courage of its convictions and legislate to stop the industry for good.

“The Scottish Government and Parliament have a very clear mandate from the people of Scotland to ban fracking. It was one of the top five issues going into the 2016 election, with the SNP elected on a promise to deal with the industry, the Scottish Parliament has already voted to ban it and more than 60,000 responded to a consultation in 2017 rejecting fracking.

“A series of subsequent powerful commitments from Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers have still not resulted in robust, long-term protection against this industry.”

The National: Fracking plans have been met with protests by the Scottish publicFracking plans have been met with protests by the Scottish public

Church added: “We commissioned a legal opinion from one of Scotland’s leading lawyers which makes it equally clear that Holyrood can and should ban fracking, and that legislating would be a far more robust way to stop the industry and defeat any further legal challenges from the likes of Ineos.

“We urge ministers to work together with the other anti-fracking parties to pass a law banning fracking and finally put this issue to bed once and for all.”

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Scottish LibDem energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “Nicola Sturgeon stood up in Parliament and declared that fracking was banned, then her Government’s lawyers stood up in the Court of Session and argued that it wasn’t. This confusion at the heart of the Scottish Government’s approach has left communities worrying about their futures.”

Claudia Beamish, his Scottish Labour counterpart, added: “This looks like a cynical attempt to try and keep a ban on fracking out of the upcoming Climate Change Bill. That would be unacceptable.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government’s preferred policy position is it does not support onshore unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

“Scottish ministers are entering the final stages of the policy-making process on this important issue.

“The preferred policy position is subject to a statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment and other assessments before a policy can be finalised. These assessments, which have involved public consultation, are the latest steps in the Scottish Government’s robust and comprehensive policy-making process on this issue.

“Following consideration of the consultation responses, we will be publishing an addendum to the Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report, the preferred policy position statement and the partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment following the Easter parliamentary recess, and will invite further comments on the points covered.”