Watchdog’s ban on Greenpeace fracking ad was “substantially flawed” and should be reversed – new ruling


The UK advertising watchdog has overturned its ban on a Greenpeace advert which said experts agreed that fracking would not cut energy bills.

In a new ruling published this morning, the Advertising Standards Authority, said:

“After careful consideration of all matters raised, and including a report from the Independent Reviewer, the Council agreed that its decision to “Uphold” the complaint was substantially flawed and should be reversed.”

The new ruling followed an appeal by Greenpeace. It described today’s decision as an embarrassing climb-down for the ASA. Fracking campaigner Hannah Martin said:

“This was a farcical attempt to stifle the crucial public debate on fracking, and it should have never happened.

“This U-turn is an embarrassment not just for the advertising watchdog but for all the industry advocates who keep touting fracking as the miracle cure to high energy bills.”

The advert (see above) was published in national newspapers in January 2015. It was part of a Greenpeace campaign against government’s plans to allow fracking firms to drill under homes without permission.

The text under an image of a house and drilling rig said:

“Fracking threatens our climate, our countryside and our water. Yet experts agree – it won’t cut our energy bills.”

Lord LipseyThe pro-fracking Labour peer, Lord Lipsey, complained that the advert was misleading. Lord Lipsey (left) was then a member of the House of Lords economic affairs committee which said fracking should be a national priority. He said the advert suggested that experts were in agreement about whether fracking would reduce bills.

Greenpeace said it submitted 22 different expert opinions in support of the advert. They included statements by the then energy secretary Ed Davey, and the former chair of Cuadrilla, Lord Browne.

But in May 2015, the ASA ruled the advert was misleading (DrillOrDrop report). The ASA’s council that made the decision was headed by Lord Smith of Finsbury, also chair of the industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas. Last year the task force recommended the go-ahead for fracking in the UK (details).

In its May 2015 ruling, the ASA said there was “significant division of informed opinion on the issue”. As an example, it used statements by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had said fracking would reduce energy bills as part of his argument in favour of the process.


At the time, Greenpeace described the decision as “baseless, biased and bonkers”. It said banning the advert was a breach of Article 10, the right to freedom of expression, under the European Convention on Human Rights. It asked for the case to go before the ASA’s independent reviewer.

In today’s ruling, the ASA said:

“We noted a minority of the quotes provided by Greenpeace decisively stated that fracking would not reduce the cost of energy bills. While a range of more conditional expert views also existed, the general consensus among most appeared to be that a meaningful reduction in UK domestic energy bills was highly unlikely and/or was limited to a small number of potential scenarios.

“We therefore considered the claim as it was likely to be interpreted by readers had been substantiated and was not materially misleading.”

A spokesperson for the ASA said today:

“An independent review is an important part of our processes and governance. It provides advertisers and complainants with an opportunity to challenge our decisions. It is only right that, where our Council is presented with persuasive arguments and evidence, we are prepared to overturn our original ruling and put that on the public record.”

The Telegraph reported this morning that Lord Smith had recused himself from the latest Greenpeace ruling.

17 replies »

  1. Well done to Greenpeace for having the resource and tenacity to challenge the ruling. In the opinion of some the ASA has taken a number of rather harsh decisions against many fracking related adverts, or publications that fall under their remit. Lord Smith declared his support for fracking back in 2012 – so many have questioned his impartiality in terms of the ASA and the Task Force on Shale.

    It is disgraceful that Cameron and Osborne repeatedly stated that fracking would lower energy bills when there was no evidence whatsoever to support their statement and they continued to mislead the public in this way – they were aware this was not true. Indeed at the same time the industry, including Lord John Browne who was a government advisor at the time, publicly stated that fracking was unlikely to lower energy costs.

    Shame we can’t take politicians to an ASA equivalent 🙂

  2. Ruth you say the advert is displayed–as in paragraph under second quote….but you haven’t displayed the ad or I can’t see it. The ad is important in telling everyone that their home is at risk due to frackers being allowed to frack under it without home owners permission, after Dave and George handed over a free pass to pollute to their fracker friends, handing out over a millennia of hard won and legislated for land ownership rights and entitlements, with breathtaking arrogance, violating democracy, the British Constitution and Civil Laws governing regulations and restrictions written upon all title deeds relating to every registered title in England.

    • Good point, mar g. In the US, where close to 2 million wells have been fracked, trilliions of American homes have been destroyed by a six inch tunnel that runs a mile under their homes. Of course, this isn’t nearly as bad as the massive airplanes that pass over these homes less than a mile above, in many cases. Those airplanes also devastate people’s homes. This is why all of America wants to move to Europe, am i right? LOL

  3. Perhaps we should ban party political broadcasts for lies and ‘misleading’ content? Isnt that advertising?? Perhaps the ASA should look at them?

  4. Personally I think no-one has a clue how shale gas will effect prices, certainly not medium term because we simply don’t know how much gas is down there with any certainty and how much can be extracted. It could be a bonanza like in the Permian basin in the US or it could be the rock structure proves insufficiently permeable to allow flow, as I believe seems to be the case In Poland. We simply won’t know until we try. I spite of being very much in favour of shale exploration, I would agree that short term however shale gas is unlikely to lower the price of UK gas as the probably initial smallish amounts of gas will go into a Europe wide gas market and any effect on supply may be swamped by other supply considerations.

    It’s worth noting that because of reduction in storage capacity from the Rough storage system, the UK is increasingly dependent on imported LNG for about 20% of it’s supply, I think mainly from Qatar. Luckily there is currently a glut of world LNG which may help us this winter. The energy supply market is actually very volatile and the supply margins for electricity in particular are thin. Increases in bills seem to me to be very likely. Late last week there was comfortable gas supply but a shortage of electricity, but today electricity supply seems generally OK but the price of gas has increased on reductions in pipeline flow and smaller withdrawals from storage. For those of a nerdy disposition like myself you can get a daily update from the NPower optimisation desk site or view the Gridwatch site which gets data direct from the Grid.

    • Mark. Please go back to posting your thoughts and guesses on the I Gas share site. The information that was not supplied above was a waste of space.

      By the way, this blog posting is titled ‘Watchdog’s ban on Greenpeace fracking ad was “substantially flawed” and should be reversed – new ruling’.

      Oh, and today renewables produced more power than UK shale and saved the burning of more fossil fuel 🙂

      • Do you want to burn my books as well? 😡

        Actually what I was responding to was the content of the advert which said that shale gas wouldn’t reduce the UK price of gas although I must admit I tend to ramble on. I actually think the energy scene in the UK, and indeed worldwide, is fascinating.

        Yes renewables produce a lot of power I’m sure but, as I’ve said here a few times they won’t do so on a cold, still night in January. So we may be reducing CO2 emissions but possibly at the cost of energy shortages and/or an increase in fuel poverty. What energy sources do we need – to quote Nick Grealy “all of the above”.

  5. You quote Nick Grealy? You have books?

    We never see you posting here or elsewhere about the days when renewables produce well? But it matters not. They are producing; every day so less fossil fuels are burned 🙂

    Hopefully on a cold still night in January most of us are in bed where we should be, or able to use the still copious amounts of fossil fuels to watch late night propaganda and mindless soaps on the TV.

    • Thanks hballpeeny. Sherwulfe, of course renewables produce a lot of electricity at times, my recollection is that offshore wind at times generated over 17% of our electricity, plus solar and onshore generation (the data for this seems to be less accessible on the daily real time data). I suspect that, for example, the coming week might be good with an Atlantic cyclonic system on the way. There has to be a BUT of course and that relates to your comment about cold, still nights. As I recall, nights start at about 4.30 to 5 o’clock in winter which is a period of peak electricity demand. That of course is the point, if there is no renewable supply then at peak time we need a huge backup of either pumped hrdro or batteries, or fossil fuels, which can replace that supply, either that or reduce demand hugely for example by going to bed as you suggest !! Actually what the Grid has tried to do is “demand side management” which is paying industry (from our bills of course) to lower consumption in these peak periods. In other words the factories go to bed so we don’t have to. Not really an ideal system.

      • Renewable energy’s source is free. Renewable energy is infinite. Renewable energy is the most environmentally friendly energy source.

        Common sense would dictate to maximise on this energy.

        The UK has high wind speeds,is surrounded by water, and gets plenty of daylight for viable solar.

        A combination of maximised renewable s would require a relatively small fossil fuel back up which we already have.

        Anyone like to explain why we could not double the amount of renewable UK projects and reduce our needs for fossil fuels.

        • Unfortunately your plan won’t work John, not in the UK with current renewables technology. Too intermittent and dependent on something reliable for back up when they are not working. The more dependent we become on wind and solar, the more back up is required. Wave / tidal is no where near ready yet – if ever. The only countries that have 100% renewable electricity generation are those with a lot of hydro – not wind / solar. Germany and Denmark have demonstrated how much wind and solar can do – and how much this costs. Have a look at the National Grid future forecasts through to 2050 – even the greenest scenario still requires a lot of gas.

          Why don’t you tell this BB how your proposal will work. You can use a grid requirement of up to 50GW equivalent maximum demand. And a steady base load of say, 25 GW? We can then have a look at it and see if it is viable?

          Lets say we have 100GW of offshore wind installed (vs 14GW combined on and offshore at present) this will provide an average over a year equivalent to 45GW using the offshore wind annual Load Factor of 45%. 50% the time these turbines will produce more than 45GW, but also 50% of the time they will produce less. In fact a study in 2013 showed that the time during which the wind turbines produced less than 10% of their rated capacity totalled 3,165 hours and the time during which the wind turbines produced less than 5% of their rated capacity totalled 1,200 hours. The output from wind turbines was extremely intermittent with variations by a factor of 10 occurring over very short periods. In fact for several days a year they will produce effectively zero. So you need something on standby to produce the equivalent of the wind turbines when there is no wind, on a cold dark evening with high pressure sitting over Europe….. Or we need to solve the storage problem quickly.

          According to Wiki “wind power delivers a growing percentage of the energy in the United Kingdom and at the end of August 2016, it consisted of 6,938 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 14 gigawatts: 8,995 megawatts of onshore capacity and 5,098 megawatts of offshore capacity.”
          “In 2014, 28.1 TW·h of energy was generated by wind power (an average of 3.2 GW, about 24% of the 13.5 GW “installed capacity” quoted above), which contributed 9.3% of the UK’s electricity requirement”

          There is now 142 GW of installed wind energy capacity in the EU: approximately 131 GW onshore and 11 GW offshore. The whole of the EU’s installed wind capacity should just about cover us – but only when it is windy.

          • You are applying your numbers to a world that stays the same..that continues to burn energy for want and greed not need.

            Paul, you need to start factoring into your calculations the compulsory use of insulation, the curbing of waste, the reduction of many mass production systems that waste fossil fuel energy. Its as much about how we use the energy as how we produce it.

            We are using renewables now; each day means less dirty fuel burned; increase these and then reassess. As renewable technology improves through the use and development, then better results will occur.

            I have lived with renewables for 20 years. It does work. Each will have to make it work for them by adapting working practices, stopping waste, thinking whether or not they should be buying plastic coated food shipped from the other side of the world, or buy locally produced food at source. We have to talk solar on roofs, all roofs that can take it; working from home and local.

            You cannot have clean energy production at 100% at the moment if you do not change systems and practice. Storage will come when the technology is released, probably just before the ‘point of no return’.

            Our future has to be clean energy production to meet our climate change targets, whatever you believe. It is happening albeit slowly. There is change in the air at last. More MPs are looking away from fossil fuels and supporting renewables. Surveys are showing bigger support from the people. The changes are increasing in momentum. Let’s hope we have not left it too late.

            • Hi Sherwulfe, I fully understand where you would like to get to, we all would. But global demand is not falling and forecasts show that demand will continue to increase:



              Click to access eepReport2015_160205.pdf

              Whilst renewables are forecast to increase, so are gas and, even coal usage globally.

              I live in a Victorian house built in the 1890s, the latest extension is super insulated, underfloor heating (gas). We have wood burning stoves in three rooms. We manage a woodland and only burn our own wood. The original part of the house still has single glazing – I have looked at replacing it with double or even triple glazing but it makes no sense from a cost standpoint. Current insulation is zero – only 1-1/2 ft of stone / brick. Not practical to install insulation on the inside. We would never recover the investment in gas savings. I would say our house is fairly common in the UK and owners will be in a similar position to ourselves.

              My brother lets part of his house out to holiday makers in Devon. He had guests from the NW drive down in an electric car. Apparently they had to charge 6 times on the way – at 30mins per charge this is an extra 3 hours on the journey. Yes, charging points will become more common, batteries will get better…. but then where does all the additional electrcity come from.

              I assume that if you are off grid you do not benefit from FITs etc? Most people who intalled PV / small wind are only interested in the FITs money and payback time, a bit like me with my double glazing. Human nature is what it is.

              • Well done you. You see if everyone does what they can then we can move towards that place we need to be in 🙂

                It should not be down to the few to do all, but the all to do some.

                Electric cars are still in development. If you don’t power them with energy from renewables they are pointless as they use more fuel to create and store the electric they need. But as all technology starts like this, we have to endure some irony.

                No one is claiming this can happen overnight, but small steps to sanity will avoid calamity!

  6. The point is Mark, we cannot go on using fossil fuels the way we do. Having lived off grid for over 20 years using renewables for electricity, our household has learned to adapt. Our lights do not go off, and we are very warm, thanks. When we first set up people laughed. Now they ask how they can do the same.

    Near to me are now two additional wind turbines and several very big solar arrays on farms. It has taken a long time to get this far. It needs to go quicker. When chatting to a local hairdresser who had installed solar panels on her roof she remark that daily her meter went ‘backwards’ which gave her great pleasure. A colleague has switched to Good Energy. This gives me hope.

    If you look back only 100 years the UK did not guzzle power as it now does. People were not unhappy. Music was real, not electronic. People still went out and enjoyed the social scene. We did not have the cars. People walked or took the bus. Our food was not industrialized and covered with oil. We did not starve. Our old folk were cared for by their families and not left stranded by family too busy to care or too wrapped in their technological lives; at the mercy of an austerity system that puts their lives at risk.

    We need to reduce our need for fossil burn. Why are we not working from home powered by solar roofs? Why are 200 cars travelling one way to work and 200 hundred in the opposite direction to do the same job?

    We need to use power wisely. It will be a mix until the storage solutions are released. We need to maximise the use of clean energy, wind, solar, tidal; insulation, smart use, then we can assess what additional power we truly need.

    Whilst ‘bet fred’ investors are promoting ponzi schemes like shale and not investing properly to assist small to medium sized business build local and sustainable employment, we are stumbling down the wrong path.

    I have seen the changes over the last 20 years. I am a supporter of renewables because I know they work, I live with them every day. I am accepting of top ups for the short term, but in the knowledge that we already have two and a half time more reserves than we can ever burn to prevent the point of no return. Shale can never have a part in the mix.

    We would not be going backward by returning to some of the practices we did ‘pre electricity’. We have better technology but it has lately having a negative effect. Children are lost in the phones. Mothers push their children in prams whilst engrossed in whatever is on screen. They do not interact with their babies. We have become lazy and some overweight. We travel in cars to the local store to buy plastic covered food grown by oil. ‘Somethings gotta give’.

    Nothing will change overnight, but each day we must take a small step towards our inevitable renewable future.

    Renewable power is now. Today it has saved more fossil burn. Smart meters and insulation are in place, again making a small but sustainable difference. People are switching to renewables and becoming independent of the energy companies; not something I suspect they are best pleased with! tI is happening, and for that I am thankful.

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