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 in June last year found no prohibition against fracking in Scotland.
The Scottish Government had said it would inform 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 a further eight-week public consultation will be held, expected to start after 21 April.
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.
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth Scotland called for a full legal ban.
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 Parliament had 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.