FRACKING has been banned in Scotland because it is “incompatible” with tackling the climate change emergency, the SNP Government has confirmed.

After six years of deliberations, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the government had decided to refuse to grant any licences for the controversial gas extraction technique.

He said this “strong policy” position and embedding opposition to fracking in the next National Planning Framework due in 2021 meant a legislative ban was unnecessary.

However he told MSPs that a ban in law may become preferable in future.

The move, which was revealed in a government website leak yesterday, was widely welcomed at Holyrood, although there remain calls for a “water-tight legislative ban”.

Mr Wheelhouse said the position of “no support” for fracking followed “a comprehensive period of evidence-gathering and consultation” that started in 2013.

He said the final position of refusing to issue licences meant no fracking would take place, extending a moratorium that has already been in effect since 2015.

There would also be a ban on the burning of coal bed methane.

The chief planner today told councils of the new planning position to put it "into immediate effect".

Mr Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government’s final policy position is that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas - often known as fracking - in Scotland.

“That decision followed consideration of many factors including the significant negative effects that UOG development could have on our natural environment and the health and wellbeing of communities, while bearing in mind the overwhelming feedback from the public that this should not be permitted in Scotland.

“After a comprehensive evidence-gathering exercise, we have concluded that the development of onshore unconventional oil and gas is incompatible with our policies on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonisation of our economy.

“Fracking can only happen if licences are issued and we do not intend to issue any licences which would permit that.”

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 the Central Belt.

Although Mr Wheelhouse did not mention Ineos by name, he acknowledged the Scottish chemical industry disagreed with his decision and sought to reassure manufacturers.

He said: “Scotland’s chemicals industry has conveyed strong views on the potential benefits of unconventional oil and gas for Scottish industry. 

“While we do not share this vision, I want to be clear our support for Scotland’s industrial base and our desire to develop our world-class chemical manufacturing sector is unwavering. 

“We will continue to support the sector in a range of ways in the months and years to come but we do not agree that Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction is a requirement of the industry’s future.”

Green MSP Mark Russell said: “We’ve pushed the Scottish Government all the way on this issue, ever since we led the first debate on the subject in 2012, and have worked with communities across the country to highlight the major public health and environmental concerns that fracking presented.

"This decision emphasises that Greens continue to punch above our weight, and is just the latest example of Green MSPs leading the change in the Scottish Parliament.

“Now the moratorium on planning decisions has been lifted, ministers must move to reject Ineos’s application to exploit gas in the Forth Valley.

"Communities have lived under the shadow of a Coal Bed Methane development since 2012 and in some cases residents have even struggled to sell their houses.

"The final nail in the coffin for fracking in Scotland would be a speedy rejection of this development bringing years of uncertainty to an end.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns Mary Church said: "It is of course very welcome that Ministers have announced they are keeping the indefinite moratorium on fracking in place, but frustrating that today's decision falls short of the full legal ban that would put the issue to bed once and for all.

“The inclusion of the policy of no support for fracking in the National Planning Framework would certainly strengthen the present position, but the Energy Minister acknowledged that he can't confirm this will happen before the next Holyrood elections, which could see a new Government with a different approach to fracking in power.  

“Clearly the Government haven’t gone as far as they should have, but the fact that there has been no fracking in Scotland for the last five years is a huge victory for campaigners and communities across Scotland."