Council chiefs in North Yorkshire are investigating whether fraudulent objections have been submitted to a controversial fracking bid after it emerged several supposed critics had no knowledge of comments made in their names.
North Yorkshire County Council’s planning and regulatory functions committee will meet next week to discuss an application by Third Energy UK Gas Ltd for shale gas extraction near the village of Kirby Misperton.
The council has received nearly 2,500 letters and emails objecting to the proposal, including some sent “en masse”.
But, in a statement, the council said enquiries revealed some letters and emails had been sent “unbeknown to the owner of the email address or the named person on the letter” and that “personal data may have been used without consent”.
It said: “North Yorkshire County Council as the planning authority is currently in the process of verifying the identification of people and organisations that have made representations with regard to Third Energy’s shale gas application.
“The council has raised concerns with members of its planning and regulatory functions committee that some ‘en masse’ representations from objectors have included emails and letters unbeknown to the owner of the email address or the named person on the letter and that personal data may have been used without consent.
“The scale of the concern is unknown at this point, If any of the council’s enquiries raise matters that require police attention those matters will be referred to the police.”
The proposed fracking site lies one mile from Kirby Misperton, where the Flamingo Land Theme park is based.
Third Energy UK Gas Ltd took samples from an existing gas well near the village in 2013.
It now wants to hydraulically fracture the same well to test if shale gas could be extracted commercially.
Campaigners argue fracking, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into rock formations deep underground to release gas deposits, poses serious environmental risks.
Experts in the energy industry say concerns about contamination and potential harm to people’s health are unfounded and point to various international studies that back this up.
Next Tuesday’s meeting is to update members of the planning and regulatory committee on the application and responses to it ahead of a final decision at a later date.
Reacting to the news about the suggestion some objections had been falsified, Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry trade body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: “There is always a place for open, transparent and honest debate in this country. It is disturbing, if true, that some have taken upon themselves to circumvent that position.”
A spokesman for campaign group Frack Free Ryedale said: “We share the council’s concern if there have been any problems with the consultation process, which has apparently attracted thousands of responses from the public.
“We would welcome further clarification on what may have occurred, and the number of responses involved.”
He said one explanation was that some people who had objected on campaign websites may not have realised their objections would be passed on to the council.