RYEDALE District Council could earn up to £1.7m a year – but only if it backs fracking in the area.

As part of an “all out” drive to promote the search for shale gas across the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that councils that back fracking would receive 100 per cent of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes, instead of the usual 50 per cent.

The Government also suggested that projects would provide 74,000 jobs and reduce bills for local communities.

However campaign groups such as Greenpeace have accused ministers of trying to bribe councils and campaign group Frack Free North Yorkshire said fracking would damage the booming tourism industry in the area.

Paul Gammon, member of Frack Free North Yorkshire and Pickering resident, said that he thinks the Government is bribing people and councils without being honest about what is happening.

“It is very devious and they are not telling us what they are going to be doing before they ‘bribe’ us,” he said.

“They have to stoop to this to get their way and they have probably been planning this for the past five years. We want to know what’s going on.”

Linda Cowling, Ryedale District Council leader, said the council’s main priority is Ryedale’s environment. “I am not really interested in how much money fracking will generate. What I really need to know is whether it is damaging to the environment,” she said.

“If it is dangerous no amount of money can put that right; if fracking is safe I am happy for it to go ahead, but I would have to be convinced.

“Obviously the sums of money involved are large and are potentially beneficial for our district.”

The announcement came as French energy firm Total said it will invest £30m in drilling for shale gas, making it the first major oil company to join the UK’s search for shale gas.

The company has partnerships with Dart Energy, IGas and Egdon Resources, which have expressed interests in exploration licences across Yorkshire and in parts of North Lincolnshire and North Nottinghamshire.

Ryedale has been identified as an area with the potential for fracking and drilling samples from a site in Kirby Misperton were sent off for analysis late last year.

A spokesman for Viking UK Gas Ltd said that the results would not be known for months.

Last month, Viking was granted permission for gas production at two existing well-sites in Ebberston Common Lane, Snainton, for the next five years.

A spokesman for Viking said an initial objection had been made by Moorland Energy Ltd, which has drilling permission at an existing well-site in Ebberston until 2015, before it was withdrawn.

A minerals and waste plan for North Yorkshire is expected to be approved at a City of York Council meeting next month, which will offer councillors an option not to support developing shale gas resources “in principle.”

The next consultation stage will also mark out potential sites for schemes up to 2030.

The blueprint of the plan has been described as weak by leader of the city council’s Green group, Councillor Andy D’Agorne, who said that he wanted the plan to outline the importance of concentrating on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.