FRACKING may not happen in Ryedale before Christmas as planned due to "a legal loophole", campaigners say.

The department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) has admitted it has been working to close a loophole in the Infrastructure Act 2015.

The loophole relates to the fact that secretary of state Greg Clark must give consent to fracking operations.

The statement from energy minister Richard Harrington said: "Hydraulic Fracturing Consent was introduced in the Infrastructure Act 2015 as an additional step to the existing regulatory and permitting regime.

"However, it does not apply to wells drilled before the 2015 Act came to force and these are not captured by the requirement to seek a Hydraulic Fracturing Consent."

Gas company Third Energy drilled the KM8 well in 2013.

Greg Clark has today brought a new direction before Parliament clarifying the processes for applying for Hydraulic Fracturing Consent for all shale gas operations.

It means that all operators will now have to apply to BEIS for the consent, even if the well was drilled prior to the Infrastructure Act coming into force in 2015.

Anti-fracking campaigners described the blunder as a 'stay of execution'.

Steve Mason, of Frack-Free Ryedale, said: "It looks like this legal loophole will delay the frack for a few weeks.

"This is just a stay of execution - we will continue to fight the industry.

"The anti-fracking lobby continues to grow locally and nationally and we will not give up the fight until this short-sighted Tory government sees sense and withdraws its support for this dirty industry."

Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: "This new development is a technicality and it has caused delays in the provision of consent, but it is right and proper that all operations are subject to the same scrutiny and procedure.

"It does not affect the comprehensive regime of regulations in place which will ensure that fracking is subject to detailed regulations and monitoring by the Environment Agency, Health & Safety Executive and the Mineral Planning Authority, as well as the independent monitoring carried out by the British Geological Survey, to ensure it protects the environment and our countryside."

A Third Energy spokesperson said: "Third Energy has followed the regulatory regime for associated hydraulic fracturing as required by the Infrastructure Act of 2015.

"We are very conscious of the obligations under this regime and have done everything that is required by regulations.

"We have all the required approvals from the regulators for associated hydraulic fracturing and we await the Secretary of State's consent."