PROTESTERS are to converge on the SNP conference on Saturday to demand a ban on fracking in Scotland.

Anti-fracking groups, community councillors and concerned citizens are to gather for the protest a month after the Scottish Government delayed a decision on whether to ban fracking in Scotland.

A moratorium on the controversial process, which critics say is dangerous and unproven, has been in place since 2015, and the government said in October 2017 that it backed an "effective ban".

Scottish ministers pledged they would set out their finalised policy on fracking by the end of March.

However, they have said they will launch a further consultation process after the Easter break.

A legal opinion commissioned by Friends of the Earth Scotland and published by Aidan O’Neill QC last month suggests that the Scottish Parliament has the legislative competence to pass a fracking ban.

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It also indicates that doing so would be less likely to result in successful legal challenges from companies with an interest in the industry.

READ MORE: SNP ministers delay decision on fracking yet again 

Concerns about the drilling technique were again raised in the run-up to Christmas when the energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached legal limits.

Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks or boreholes so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

Mary Church of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “Communities on the frontline of this dirty industry 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.

"It is high time for Ministers to live up to their rhetoric and ban fracking for good. We have a clear legal opinion confirming it is both possible and more watertight to legislate to prohibit fracking, and Holyrood has a clear mandate from the people of Scotland to do so.

"If the present Scottish Government cares an ounce about its legacy, we urge it to work together with anti-fracking parties to pass a law banning fracking and finally put this issue to bed once and for all.”

The protest will be held outside the entrance to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre where the SNP are holding their Spring conference.

Donald Campbell, chairman of the Broad Alliance Against Unconventional Gas said: "The Broad Alliance are present at the SNP conference to remind our Government that we are committed to standing against fracking until we have a full ban in law.

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"We are here to ask SNP members to support us by raising our concerns at conference that the present approach to stopping fracking is vulnerable to being overturned by a future government with the stroke of a pen."

Iain Black, of SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas (SMAUG) added: "We warmly welcome the fact the Scottish Government has stopped fracking in Scotland for over four years, and understand its not something the SNP wants to happen now, or ever.

"However, given recent developments including the legal opinion, we think the current approach is not strong enough, and want the Government to explore using new licensing powers to pass a robust legal ban."

The government said in October 2017 that the moratorium would continue "indefinitely", calling this an "effective ban" and saying that fracking "cannot and will not take place in Scotland".

This position was endorsed by MSPS by a vote of 91 to 28, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later told the SNP conference that "fracking is now banned in Scotland".

READ MORE: Fracking ban under consideration in Labour plans for Climate Change 

But when petrochemical firms Ineos and Reach launched a legal challenge, the government's legal representative told the Court of Session that there was no ban in place as the policymaking process was still ongoing.

In England, planning guidance issued by the UK government says local councils should "recognise the benefits of on-shore oil and gas development".

It adds that planning authorities should "put in place policies to facilitate their exploration and extraction".

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The SNP website said fracking was banned in Scotland

Penny Cole of Frackwatch Glasgow said: “By choosing to continue the moratorium, rather than pass a law against fracking, the Scottish Government is prolonging the agony for people living in license areas.

"They claim a law might be open to legal challenge, but Ireland has done it – why can’t we? Frackwatch calls on people to contact their MSP and remind them of Nicola Sturgeon’s words 'fracking is being banned - end of story'. We call on the Government get a move on and act to ban fracking once and for all."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Our preferred policy position is that we do not support onshore unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland. Ministers are entering the final stages of the policy making process on this important issue.

“The preferred policy position is subject to a statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment and other assessments before a policy can be finalised.”