Scotland could press ahead with a formal ban on fracking later this year, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has indicated.
The Scottish Government has come under attack after a lawyer representing ministers told a court last week the current “effective ban” was a “gloss” and the “language of a press release”.
Ministers are currently using the planning system to block new fracking developments through directions to local councils.
But a full legal ban can only be implemented after a full strategic environmental assessment is carried out by ministers.
“We embarked upon a strategic environmental assessment,” Mr Wheelhouse told MSPs yesterday.
“We expect that to conclude in the summer and we would undertake any other statutory requirements in reaching our preferred position.”
The government has already stated its “preferred position” is to have a fracking ban in Scotland.
Fracking giant Ineos is currently challenging the “effective ban” in Scotland in court.
James Mure QC, acting for ministers in the Court of Session case, caused a stir last week when he suggested there was no formal ban in place.
“They have not yet adopted a position,” he said, adding that ministers only had a preferred position until the environmental assessment was undertaken. He indicated that this policy-making process will be “finalised” in October.
Mr Wheelhouse was also accused of “dodging” questions about whether he will grant licences to fracking companies when they come up for renewal next month. These licences would allow companies to frack, if it wasn’t currently blocked through the planning system in Scotland.
There are four active PEDL licences in Scotland. One, in the Central Belt, is due to expire at the end of next month and there are concerns that fracking companies are likely to reapply shortly afterwards.
Mr Wheelhouse stopped short of ruling out any extension to licences if applications come in from firms.
“I don’t want to pre-judge any application that will be made to ministers,” he told MSPs.
“Any request for extension to the licence would be taken on a case by case basis in regards of policies in place at the time.”
But Labour’s Claudia Beamish said; “People in Scotland need a clear, and simple commitment from the government that existing licences granted before the powers to ban fracking was devolved to Holyrood will not be renewed.”