A COUNCIL has held an "introductory meeting" with a chemicals firm looking to develop fracking sites across the country, it has emerged.

A campaign group set up to fight fracking last night said it believes the meeting between North Yorkshire County Council and INEOS should have been heard in public.

Frack Free Ryedale said a Freedom of Information request revealed that in January this year a meeting had taken place between the energy company and officers with the local authority.

INEOS holds Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) for areas in and around York and Ryedale.

The licences allow companies to pursue a range of oil and gas exploration activities to obtain rock samples and establish if industrial fracking is commercially viable. If so, a planning application can be submitted to the local planning authority for shale gas extraction.

North Yorkshire County Council said the meeting – held on January 18 – was a standard introductory meeting requested by INEOS to introduce its primary point of contact.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Meetings of this nature are common where any potential proposal would require planning permission from the county council. No decisions are made in this type of introductory meeting.”

But Frack Free Ryedale said the public should have known about such a meeting.

The company holds five PEDL licences in North Yorkshire. They include PEDL 282, which covers the eastern half of York, from Heslington and South Bank to outlying villages and suburbs including Haxby, Huntington, Old Earswick, Murton, Dunnington, Stockton-on-the-Forest, Sand Hutton and Holtby.

It borders another licence area held by INEOS which covers outlying villages of York, including Strensall and also takes in Sheriff Hutton, Kirkham and villages to the West of Malton.

The other three licences for exploratory work connected with fracking cover Malton, Norton and villages in Ryedale and East Yorkshire.

Other PEDL licences issued to energy companies for exploratory fracking work in North Yorkshire and the North-East include a licence held by IGAS which covers Great Ayton, Guisborough, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. IGAS holds a licence covering the other half of York, up to Easingwold.

Anti-fracking campaigner, Kit Bennett, who submitted the request to the Information Commissioner’s Office said:

“The county council were wrong to conceal the meeting in the first place. They need to put the public’s right to know ahead of INEOS’ unwanted shale gas exploration.”

The Northern Echo did not receive a response from INEOS.