Anti-fracking campaigners have been accused of stealing people’s identities and making false objections to an application to extract shale gas in northern England.
Officials discovered the potential fraud attempt after finding uncanny similarities between letters objecting to shale gas extraction, including “an array of template letters/e-mails submitted ‘en masse’”.
They then decided to check the identities of the authors, only to find that some of them claimed never to have sent any such representation.
Extraction firm Third Energy applied to North Yorkshire county council in July to frack at an existing gas site at Kirby Misperton, in the district of Ryedale. The council then invited members of the public to have their say and raise any objections.
They received 2,465 letters and emails by the end of last week, but a council report says this has included “emails and letters that were sent unbeknown to the owner of the email address or the named person on the letter”.
“This has come to light by dint of each representation being acknowledged by the authority,” the report says. “The authority has been informed by members of the public that their personal data may have been used without their 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.”
Ken Cronin, chief executive of fracking trade organisation UKOOG, told the Telegraph: “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.”
Last week, Ryedale district council voted for a five-year moratorium on fracking in the area, but the vote is non-binding as the more senior North Yorkshire county council has final say on the issue.
A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: “There is a great deal of misleading information about unproven risks from fracking and shale gas.
“Shale gas is a great opportunity for this country, and the Royal Society of Engineers and Public Health England have both concluded that if carried out in accordance with the UK’s stringent health and safety regulations, fracking can be done safely.”