Fracking ban decision delayed by Scottish government
A decision on whether to ban fracking in Scotland has been delayed, the Scottish government has said.
A moratorium on the controversial process has been in place since 2015, and the government said in October 2017 that it backed an "effective ban".
Scottish ministers pledged they would set out their finalised policy on fracking by the end of March.
However, they have now said they will launch a further consultation process after the Easter break.
The Scottish government said it planned to publish an "addendum" to its previous report which would require further comments from interested parties.
It said it would make a final decision "as soon as possible after this process is complete".
The development of unconventional oil and gas remains prohibited in Scotland, with ministers enforcing a moratorium on it via planning powers.
Mr Wheelhouse told MSPs in October 2017 that the moratorium would continue "indefinitely", calling this an "effective ban" and saying that fracking "cannot and will not take place in Scotland".
This position was endorsed by MSPS by a vote of 91 to 28, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later told the SNP conference that "fracking is now banned in Scotland".
However, when petrochemical firms Ineos and Reach launched a legal challenge, the government's legal representative told the Court of Session that there was no ban in place as the policymaking process was still ongoing.
James Mure QC told the court that the concept of an "effective ban" was PR "gloss" and "the language of a press statement" - adding that ministers "have not yet adopted a position" on fracking.
In England, planning guidance issued by the UK government says local councils should "recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development".
It adds that planning authorities should "put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction".
Scottish Labour's environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said the Scottish government was kicking the issue into the "long grass yet again".
"This would be the third government public consultation on fracking and the fourth overall including the consultation on my member's bill," she said.
"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."
The Scottish Greens' environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said people who had fought back against fracking would be "deeply frustrated" at the delay.
He called for a "legally watertight ban" on fracking, as did Environmental charity Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Its head of campaigns, Mary Church, said: "Communities on the frontline of this dirty industry who have been waiting for over 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.
"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."