A final decision on a fracking ban in Scotland has been delayed for a further government consultation.
Ministers announced an “effective ban” on the oil and gas extraction technique in 2017.
Following a legal challenge from petrochemical firm Ineos, a Court of Session ruling last June found no prohibition against fracking in Scotland.
The Scottish Government had said it would inform the Scottish Parliament of its finalised policy on the development of unconventional oil and gas in the first three months of 2019.
Now, Energy Minster Paul Wheelhouse has 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.”
Scottish Labour’s environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said: “The SNP government is kicking this 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.
“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.”
She said Scotland “has the power to ban fracking” and her party is looking at the best way to do so, either through the Climate Change Bill or her member’s bill.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats said the current situation in Scotland on fracking has left communities “worrying about their futures”.
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth Scotland called for a full legal ban.
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.”
Last week, a legal opinion by Aidan O’Neill QC, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Scotland, suggested the Scottish Parliament has the legislative competence to pass a fracking ban.
It indicated doing so would be less likely to result in successful legal challenges from companies with an interest in the industry.
Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “QC advice is clear that Scotland has the powers to implement a legally watertight ban on this destructive and unsustainable practice and the government should get on with doing that.
“Greens will give MSPs the chance to back that call tomorrow when we lead a debate in parliament on the global climate emergency.”
A Scottish Government spokesman 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.”
He said an addendum to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report would be consulted on, adding: “This approach is required to ensure the continuation of the cautious, evidence-led approach we have consistently taken towards the development of an unconventional oil and gas policy for Scotland.”