THE Scottish Government is finally to ban fracking, a website blunder has revealed.

SNP ministers had been due to announce they had finalised their policy against the controversial gas technology in a statement to MSPs tomorrow.

However the development was accidentally published a day early on a government website.

“On 03 October 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed its final policy position of no support for unconventional oil and gas (UOG),” it said.

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However it remain unclear just how the Government intends to stop firms fracking long-term.

A moratorium on councils issuing fracking licences has been in place since 2015.

Opposition parties at Holyrood want a permanent ban enshrined in legislation, meaning it could only be overturned by parliament.

But ministers want to use a “strong policy” of non-support in the next National Planning Framework, warning companies it would be a waste of effort to apply for fracking licences.

If a council went against the framework and granted a licence, ministers could call it in and refuse it on the basis of their policy.

The same system is already used to create a de facto ban on building more nuclear power stations in Scotland.

However a policy can be changed more easily than a legislative ban, and there are concerns a future Scottish Government could rewrite the rules.

The next National Planning Framework, known as NPF4, will also not be ready until 2022.

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Critics say fracking, which involves pumping pressurised water and chemicals into underground shale beds to release natural gas, is a risk to climate change and public health.

Advocates say it could support hundreds of new jobs and add millions to the economy.

Ineos, which currently imports US shale gas to Grangemouth to use as a chemical industry feedstock, has long expressed an interest in fracking in Scotland's central belt.

The Scottish Government’s preferred policy position has for several years been not to support fracking, but it has consulted repeatedly without coming to to a final position - until now.

It set up an expert panel in 2013, introduced a moratorium in 2015, ordered more research in 2016, and then consulted on fracking in 2017.

In October 2017, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse appeared to have settled the matter, telling MSPs: “There is, in effect, a ban on unconventional oil and gas activities in Scotland.”

A week later, a series of ministers also told the SNP conference there was a ban.

However the following May, after Ineos challenged the ban in court, the government admitted it wasn’t banned after all, with its lawyer explaining the term was only a “PR gloss”.

The government spent £175,000 of taxpayers money on external legal advice for the case.

In March this year, just days before the government was due to give its final decision, it announced yet more consultations - to clarify points raised in the last consultation - on the business, environmental and regulatory aspects of the technology.

Mr Wheelhouse said at the time that the government wanted to set out its position “as soon as possible after this process is complete”, but failed to put any timetable on it.

The website blunder also reveals 98 responses were received to the last consultation.

It said: “The responses to this consultation, along with the 2017 Talking Fracking consultation and 2018 consultation on statutory and other assessments, were considered in detail by Ministers prior to the finalisation of this policy.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “The Scottish Government appeared to have confirmed their position on fracking via documents published accidentally online, rather than by announcing it to Parliament more than three years ago when Liberal Democrats pressed them to introduce a ban.

“Across Central Scotland communities sat on or near sites potentially earmarked for fracking have been living in fear of what the Scottish Government might decide. By dragging their feet, Ministers have imposed years of uncertainty on those people and their communities.

“Nicola Sturgeon stood up in Parliament and declared that fracking was banned, then her government’s lawyers stood up in the Court of Session and argued that it wasn’t.

“Now that the Scottish Government are finally set to commit to doing the right thing, it’s time for an all-out assault on Scotland’s emissions.”