THE SNP is facing fresh demands to spell out its position on fracking after the party was once again accused of misleading voters over its policy on the issue.

Party headquarters is providing activists with campaign material including the term 'frack off' - a slogan widely used by activists who want to see the technique banned - despite Nicola Sturgeon refusing to rule out giving the controversial gas extraction method the go-ahead once a moratorium ends next year.

It came as the SNP was forced to deny reports that the First Minister is preparing to strip the energy brief from minister Fergus Ewing, who is widely thought to be open to unconventional oil and gas extraction, after the Holyrood election.

HeraldScotland: Fergus Ewing

Picture: Fergus Ewing, the SNP energy minister

The party said that the report, published by industry website Scottish Energy News, was "totally without foundation or any basis in fact" and paid tribute to Mr Ewing for his recent role in saving the country's steel industry.

However, Patrick Harvie, the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens who has previously claimed Mr Ewing was on the brink of resigning after being ordered to call a temporary halt to fracking, described the SNP leader's choice of energy minister as a "critical test" if she is re-elected.

Ms Sturgeon recently hardened her position against fracking, describing herself as "highly sceptical" and promising to block it if there is "any hint" it does environmental harm. However, her party also remains committed to taking an "evidence based" decision following new research while Ineos, the firm that wants to establish a Scottish shale gas industry, remains confident it will get the green light.

The SNP came under fire last year for adopting the frack off slogan ahead of the general election despite leaving the door open to fracking, but has used the term again on redesigned badges, which are coloured green and include the party logo, for the current Holyrood campaign. Asked about the election material, a party spokesman said that as a result of the moratorium, "fracking is off the agenda in Scotland."

However, Dr Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the term did not represent the true SNP position. He added: "The SNP are co-opting the language of the protestors but their own party policy does not justify it. While the vast majority of SNP members want a ban on fracking, the party has to stick with their neutral stance until the current reviews present their evidence later in the year."HeraldScotland: Friends of the Earth demonstration against fracking outside INEOS HQ in Grangemouth.
Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth. (32447521)

Picture: Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland

Mr Harvie, whose party supports a total ban along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, also said that the badges did not reflect the official SNP party line on fracking, a process that sees water, sand and chemicals pumped deep underground to fracture shale rock and release gas.

He said: "It isn’t yet the SNP position. If you want it to become the SNP’s position there is a very good case for putting some Green voices into parliament."

Discussing rumours surrounding Mr Ewing's position, he added: "I’m pretty sure there are people in the SNP who are fully committed to opposing fracking. I’m also completely certain there are people in the SNP who want to give it the green light, and I’ve little doubt Fergus Ewing is one of them.

HeraldScotland: Glasgow - July 30: Patrick Harvie MSP poses for a picture July 30, 2014 in Glasgow. (Photo by Mark Mainz). (47502631)

Picture: Green co-convenor Patrick Harvie

"It is not a question that the SNP has a range of views, but it is a question about who they give that job of energy minister to in the new parliament. I think that’s going to be critical test for Nicola Sturgeon.

"If she is serious about opposing these technologies, she is going to have to make sure we do not have someone who has said fracking is an opportunity but someone who recognises it is a threat, economically and environmentally."

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "The SNP has got itself into a complete mess over shale. That's what happens when it rides two horses, trying to please the anti-fracking left of its party, while showing some leg to big business on the right."