A COUNCIL set to decide upon the country's first fracking operation in four years has dismissed conflict of interest allegations after campaigners raised concerns over its £101m pension fund investments in fossil fuel firms and their backers.

North Yorkshire County Council said its pension fund was conducted completely independently from the authority’s activities and from its role as a planning authority.

Frack Free North Yorkshire (FFNY) said Freedom of Information requests had revealed the council, which is due to determine an application by Third Energy to hydraulically fracture for gas near Pickering, had more than £15m of direct investments in Barclays, which owns a 97 per cent stake in Third Energy.

The campaign group said documents also showed how the council has invested £1.2m of its pension fund in energy industry firm Halliburton, which they claimed would provide chemicals to Third Energy for the fracking process and were in line to carry out the fracking.

FFNY said the council had invested more than £5m in energy giant Total, which had recently invested in Dart Energy and Egdon Resources, both of which operate in the county.

It said the council had about £80m of investments in other fossil fuel firms and only £0.6 million of its pension fund invested in renewable energy.

Russell Scott, of FFNY, said the group was calling on the council to withdraw all financial investments from Barclays, Halliburton and Total.

He added: "The council will be deciding on Third Energy’s fracking planning application at Kirby Misperton, which if passed would directly benefit the council itself, as it has shares in Barclays and Halliburton.

"This appears to be a clear conflict of interest and calls into question the legitimacy of the entire decision-making process.”

A council spokeswoman said its pension fund was managed on behalf of 120 organisations to strict regulations, to achieve financial objectives in the best interest of members and pensioners.

She added the fund’s investment in firms engaged in fossil fuel activity amounted to four per cent of its total.

The council spokeswoman added: "As a long term investor charged with looking to the interests of beneficiaries over many decades into the future, the fund recognises climate change as a significant risk factor for our pension fund investment.

"Through its participation in the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, the fund’s engagement strategy is to push for an orderly carbon transition by requiring companies to identify and tackle carbon risks in their business models.

"The fund does have an increasing level of investment in renewable and low carbon energy production and will continue to make such investments where the risk/return profile fits the pension fund’s investment strategy."