The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the use of fracking in Scotland.

Members of the public have until the end of May to submit their views.

A final decision on the controversial gas extraction technique is expected to be made by ministers by the end of the year.

They have not set out a preferred position or policy in the consultation document, stating they are taking a "cautious, evidence-led approach".

A moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland has been in place since January 2015.

It prevents hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas, and coal bed methane extraction, from taking place while the Government investigates evidence on its potential impact.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: "The Scottish Government has sought to present impartial, independent information on unconventional oil and gas in order to encourage informed dialogue and debate.

"This consultation does not set out or advocate a preferred Scottish Government position or policy. Instead, we want to create space for dialogue and allow different perspectives to come forward.

"Once the consultation closes and the responses have been independently analysed, we will then consider the full range of evidence, and make our recommendation.

"In doing so, we will give careful consideration to the extraction methods for both shale oil and gas, and coal bed methane.

"We will then ask members of the Scottish Parliament to vote on our recommendation, and we will come to a final decision by the end of 2017 on whether or not unconventional oil and gas has a role in Scotland's energy mix."

Environmental organisations have called for fracking to be banned.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: "Any decision to access more fossil fuel reserves by using fracking would fly in the face of the Scottish Government's much welcomed ambition of securing half of all of Scotland's energy needs from renewables by 2030.

"When given the choice, opinion polling tells us that the public always backs clean renewables over polluting fossil fuels. We are confident that by the end of this consultation the public will give fracking a resounding thumbs down."

Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said: "No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence, and decided it's a good idea.

"Support for fracking is at an all-time low. People just don't want this dirty, dangerous industry.

"We will be encouraging people to respond in huge numbers and are confident that they will give a clear signal to the Scottish Government to ban fracking for good."

The consultation will run until May 31 and can be viewed on the Scottish Government's consultation website

Scottish Labour environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish, who has introduced her own Member's Bill to ban fracking in Scotland, said the Government is further prolonging making a decision on whether to impose a ban.

She said: "Voters going to the polls in May's important local elections still won't know the SNP's position on fracking.

"It's time for nationalist ministers to get off the fence and back Labour's call for a ban on fracking in Scotland."

Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: "The evidence to ban fracking already exists because we have more fossil fuels than we can burn if we want to limit climate change.

"A ban on fracking will allow us to focus on stable jobs in energy efficiency and renewables, and it's vital that communities take part in the consultation to make their feelings known because this could be the beginning of the end for fracking in Scotland."