ASA rules shale gas advert is misleading, exaggerated and unsubstantiated after complaint by Balcombe resident
The head of an American fracking company, who has advised MPs and the European parliament, has been censured for statements he made in an advert about the benefits of shale gas to Britain.
The Advertising Standards Authority said six claims were misleading, exaggerated and unsubstantiated and should not be repeated.
Chris Faulkner, who has adopted the name the Frack Master because of the number of wells his company has fracked, took out a full-page advert in the Sunday Telegraph in February. In it he said shale gas was “fantastic news” for British people. He claimed it meant decades’ worth of natural gas that would lower energy prices, generate millions of pounds in tax revenues, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect Britain from “catastrophic” shortages and interruptions in supply from Russia.
Juliette Harris, a resident from Balcombe, West Sussex, and an opponent of Cuadrilla’s exploratory oil well in the village, complained that these claims were misleading and could not be substantiated.
In its ruling published today, the ASA upheld all six of her complaints. It said the statements breached four rules in the advertising code. Significantly, the ASA said the claim that shale gas would reduce greenhouse gas emissions (also made by many supporters of fracking) was misleading.
The advert text and the censured claims (scored out)
“Dear Citizens of the United Kingdom, Do you know that your country is blessed with an incredible gift? It’s shale gas – natural gas trapped in layers of shale rock deep below the surface of the earth. It’s always been there, but it’s only recently that industry has figured out how to get to it. The British Geological Survey has recently released new shale gas estimates considerably higher than former estimates. This is fantastic news for the UK – especially in the wake of a near-catastrophic gas shortage last winter, and as resources in the North Sea are on the decline. This means: -Decades worth of natural gas … –Millions of pounds in tax revenues to support social and other government programs –Freedom from interruptions and stoppages as a result of Russia’s political games with your gas supply –Lowering energy prices for millions –Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal with natural gas for energy …”.
For more on the complaint, spool down to Details of ASA ruling
Full ASA adjudication
The ASA said the censured claims must not appear again in their current form. It ordered Mr Faulkner’s company, Breitling Energy Corporation, based in Dallas, to ensure that it held “robust documentary evidence in support of claims likely to be regarded as objective”. It also told Breitling not to present matters of opinion as objective claims and to ensure that future adverts did not suggest their claims were universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion existed.
Juliette Harris welcomed the ruling.
“The oil and gas industry PR machine, with the blind support of our government, is hell-bent on discrediting opposition and manipulating the British public. l am so thankful there are still institutions in this country, like the ASA, who are impartial and evidence-based, trying to protect us from this potential, deadly propaganda.”
Breitling Energy made the following statement.
“Breitling is aware of the importance of being in compliance with all regulatory agencies, including those industry self-governing organizations, such as the ASA, that monitor and oversee advertising across all media. Breitling respectfully points out that this piece was intended as an open letter from its CEO to the citizens of the United Kingdom. As we told the ASA Investigative Team, the intent of the communication was to be an open letter by CEO Chris Faulkner to provide his insight and knowledge about hydraulic fracking based on the experience in the United States, and relating this experience to the situation in the United Kingdom.
“Breitling was not attempting to sell a product or service, and consumers would not have relied upon his statements to make any purchasing decisions. Our CEO simply was sharing his views and experience to bring some balance to the debate on hydraulic fracking in the UK, a debate which has been dominated for many months by the sometimes outrageous claims made by opponents of the fracking process. Breitling recognizes that the ASA must make allowances for public perceptions; however, we felt compelled to add our voice and experiences in order to provide some balance in this debate since the fracking debate has particular complexities. As our CEO sought to make known his views in the fracking debate, Breitling contends that the claims were properly phrased and that we had adequate substantiation for them.”
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion said:
“The public deserves the unspun facts on fracking. But we’re seeing information pumped out by industry lobbyists – and even our own Government – being filtered, distorted and censored in a vain attempt to make it more palatable. The implications of fracking on our communities and our climate are vast – it’s time to set the record straight, and the ASA’s ruling on this is to be welcomed.”
We asked the Department for Energy and Climate Change whether the ruling on greenhouse gas emissions would affect the advice given to ministers when they make public statements. A DECC spokesperson said: “We have noted the ASA’s ruling and will respond if appropriate”.
This is the second time that the ASA has upheld complaints against the fracking industry. In April last year, it censured Cuadrilla for claiming it used “proven, safe technologies”. Cuadrilla was also ordered not to use again the phrase: “we know that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to contamination of the underground aquifer”.
Mr Faulkner is the CEO of Breitling Energy Corporation. He is regular speaker at fracking conferences and is interviewed frequently by the UK and American media. In the past year, he
- Gave a presentation to the House of Commons
- Presented a report to the European Parliament
- Wrote an article for The Guardian on why the UK should embrace fracking
- Had breakfast with The Sun environment editor
- Visited Balcombe with the BBC and said of concerns about contamination of drinking water by fracking: “It’s foolish and it’s silly”
- Gave a headline speech at Energy Live Conference in London
- Gave interviews to Panorama, BBC Radio 5 Live, ITV Daybreak and local BBC radio stations
Details of ASA ruling
Claim 1. Britain experienced a “near-catastrophic gas shortage last winter”
The complaint: This exaggerated the severity of the shortage.
Breitling response: The claim related to a shortage of gas experienced by the UK in March-April 2013. The company supplied news reports which said the UK was six hours or two days from running out of liquefied natural gas and that back-up supplies were a two-week boat trip away.
ASA assessment: The claim used very emotive language and was likely to be interpreted as a factual statement. The ASA pointed to comments by the National Grid, which said low storage levels were not uncommon at the end of winter and the UK had a “large diversity of supply sources”. News reports were unlikely to constitute robust and unbiased substantiation for an objective claim, the ASA added.
Claim 2. Shale gas would mean “decades’ worth natural gas”
The complaint: This was misleading and could not be substantiated because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, was not yet known
Breitling response: The British Geological Survey estimated there were 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Bowland-Hodder Basin and the UK typically used 2.5-2.8 Tcf of gas a year.
ASA assessment: The BGS report contained estimates of the resource (what could be available), not reserves (what could be recovered). An estimate of reserve by the US Energy Information Agency put the UK’s recoverable shale gas at 26 Tcf, which is approximately nine years’ worth of gas at current consumption rates.
Claim 3. Shale gas would mean “millions of pounds in tax revenues”
The complaint: This was misleading and could not be substantiated because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, was not yet known.
Breitling response: See point 2. In addition, based on US experience, the company said shale gas reserve estimates in the UK were likely to continue to rise as new wells were drilled. It also supplied a report from the Institute of Directors on the impact of shale gas on the economy
ASA assessment: It is not possible to definitively calculate the likely tax revenues.
Claim 4. Shale gas would mean “freedom from interruptions and stoppages as a result of Russia’s political games with your gas supply
The complaint: Russia does not supply gas to the UK and has never interrupted the UK’s gas supply.
Breitling response: 2% of the UK’s gas imports came from Russia and the UK would be affected by stoppages of Russian gas to other European Union countries. In the past, Breitling said Russia had cut off its gas supply to Ukraine, with knock-on effects in Europe.
ASA assessment: The impact on the UK of a dispute in 2009 between Russia and the Ukraine had been minimal and supply was not interrupted or stopped. A new European regulation had been established to safeguard the security of gas supply.
Claim 5. Shale gas means “Lowering energy prices for millions
The complaint: This is misleading and unsubstantiated because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, is not yet known. Domestic extraction would have a minimal impact on energy prices because the UK is part of the integrated European gas market.
Breitling response: US consumer gas prices had dropped from over $4.80 Btu to $2.30 Btu and a similar drop could occur in the UK. It also cited an opinion piece by David Cameron, in which the Prime Minister wrote that fracking had “real potential” to drive energy bills down.
ASA assessment: Informed opinion on the scale of likely UK shale gas reserves was divided and there was insufficient evidence to support the claim.
Claim 6. Shale gas means “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal with natural gas for energy
The complaint: This is misleading because there are no reliable estimates for the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction. The complainant also argued that extraction carries a risk of methane emissions and there is no certainty that gas would be used instead of, rather than in addition to, coal.
Breitling response: US greenhouse gas emissions had decreased by 3.4% from 2011-12 and this was directly attributable to the fall in gas prices due to shale extraction and a consequent shift to gas as an energy source.
ASA assessment: It was not certain that the development of UK shale gas would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the reduction was conditional on a number of factors.