CAMPAIGNERS fear the takeover of an energy firm by a multinational petrochemicals company with fracking licences could revive plans for a gas processing plant near a picturesque tourist village.

The acquisition of Moorland Energy by INEOS, which manufactures PVC resins and PVC compounds at a 160-acre site in Newton Aycliffe, has prompted fears in Ryedale, North Yorkshire that plans for an industrial processing plant may resurface.

Moorland Energy was granted permission for the gas plant at Thornton le Dale, near Pickering, at a public inquiry in 2010. Its takeover by INEOS has also prompted speculation amongst campaigners that there may be plans in the future to drill horizontally from the area to reach potential shale gas reserves beneath the park.

INEOS holds licences for test fracks across North Yorkshire, including within the North York Moors.

Fracking rigs have been banned on the surface of national parks, but last year the Government approved permits for companies to station rigs just outside their boundaries and drill through to them.

A spokesman for anti-fracking group Frack Free Ryedale said the move "significantly increased" the threat of fracking in the area just south of the North York Moors National Park, and also revived concern about the Thornton le Dale gas processing plant, which was vigorously opposed by local residents in 2010.

He said: "INEOS may wish to revive the planning permission already granted for the plant in order to process the gas they intend to produce from fracking wells situated just south of the North York Moors National Park. Currently, companies are not allowed to establish fracking wells on the surface of national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, but are allowed to place fracking well sites just outside their borders and drill horizontally underneath these protected areas."

Russell Scott, of Frack Free North Yorkshire, said fracking was a heavy industrial activity which required thousands of wells to be financially viable.

He said: "It's not just the number of multi-well fracking pads that will devastate our countryside - there is also a huge amount of related infrastructure that will be needed, including water treatment plants, new pipelines, dehydration plants, compressor stations, new roads - and of course gas processing plants, like the one planned for Thornton le Dale."

David Davis, of Hovingham, said: "Planning permission for the gas processing plant at Thornton le Dale is still valid until later this year, which is a gift to any company wishing to frack Ryedale. INEOS can easily apply for an extension to this permission, and may want to use this processing plant to process gas from nearby fracking well-pads."

An INEOS spokesperson said it had not yet reviewed permissions associated with the site, and added: “We have only recently acquired the licence as part of our regional interest in shale gas. We will review the existing conventional data and permissions in due course.”