Advertising watchdog warns Friends of the Earth over fracking claims


Leaflet cover

Friends of the Earth has agreed not to repeat claims it made in a leaflet about the effects of fracking.

In an informal resolution published this morning, the Advertising Standards Agency said the leaflet must not appear again in its current form. Friends of the Earth was also instructed not to make claims about the effects of fracking on health, water or property prices without adequate evidence.

The ASA received two complaints about the fundraising leaflet, including one from the shale gas company, Cuadrilla. A draft decision was leaked to The Times in September.

Cuadrilla’s chief executive, Francis Egan, said:

“Friends of the Earth’s repeated falsehoods have been exposed as nothing more than scaremongering designed to frighten the public into giving it money. It is the unacceptable face of the charity sector.”

But Donna Hume, senior campaigner, Friends of the Earth, said:

“We continue to campaign against fracking, alongside local people, because the process of exploring for and extracting shale gas is inherently risky for the environment, this is why fracking is banned or put on hold in so many countries.”

Fracking claims

The leaflet was published more than a year ago. A spokesperson for the ASA explained the background to the case:

“We received a complaint about claims in a magazine insert by Friends of the Earth which promoted its anti-fracking campaign.

“The complainant challenged whether the claim ‘Fracking involves pumping millions of litres of water containing a toxic cocktail of chemicals deep underground … Up to 80% never returns to the surface and could end up in your drinking water’ was misleading and could be substantiated; and ‘A hospital near a US fracking site reports asthma rates three times higher than average’ misleadingly implied that fracking caused such increases in asthma rates.

“Separately, Cuadrilla challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

  • “25% of fracking chemicals could cause cancer. Also, more than 75% of fracking chemicals could affect your skin, eyes and respiratory system. Whilst 50% could affect your nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems”; and
  • “Plummeting house prices”.

“We approached Friends of the Earth with the concerns that had been raised about its ad. The advertiser agreed not to repeat the claims, or claims that had the same meaning.

“On that basis we closed the case informally. The ad must not appear again in its current form. We have told Friends of the Earth Trust Ltd and Friends of the Earth Ltd not to make claims about the likely effects of fracking on the health of local populations, drinking water, or property prices in the absence of adequate evidence.”

Cuadrilla’s reaction

FrancisEganIn a statement, Cuadrilla’s Francis Egan said:

“After many attempts by Friends of the Earth to delay this decision, the charity’s admission that all of the claims it made, that we complained about, were false should hopefully put a stop to it misleading the UK public on fracking.

“Friends of the Earth’s repeated falsehoods have been exposed as nothing more than scaremongering designed to frighten the public into giving it money. It is the unacceptable face of the charity sector.”

“Friends of the Earth has committed to the ASA that “it will not to repeat the claims, or claims which have the same meaning, in future”.

Cuadrilla said the agreement covered what it described as the “false claims” that:

  • “the fluid used in fracking contains chemicals dangerous to human health, and that the fluid would, as a natural consequence of the act of fracking, contaminate the drinking water of nearby communities because it remained underground;
  • “the US fracking site [the FoE leaflet] referred to was responsible for the increase in asthma rates, and that the public would be at risk of equivalent increases in asthma rates by living or working near a fracking site in the UK;
  • “that there is an established risk of the chemicals concerned causing cancer and other conditions among the local population, when used in fracking in the UK;
  • “that fracking will cause plummeting house prices.”

Friends of the Earth response

donna-hume-h-and-sDonna Hume, of Friends of the Earth, responded:

“Cuadrilla’s complaint isn’t surprising from a profit-driven fracking company, after all, they have shareholders to keep happy.

“They started this process to distract from the real issues about fracking, and how burning fossil fuels is dangerous for climate change. This is a pro-fracking company doing all they can to shut down opposition to fracking. It hasn’t worked though. What’s happened instead is that the ASA has dropped the case without ruling.

“We continue to campaign against fracking, alongside local people, because the process of exploring for and extracting shale gas is inherently risky for the environment, this is why fracking is banned or put on hold in so many countries.”

Other reaction

Tom Pickering, Operations Direction of INEOS Shale, said in a statement:

“The false claims have formed the heart of the FOE’s wrongheaded opposition to fracking and we are pleased to see the record corrected.

“INEOS is always happy to debate on the facts and answer any questions and concerns that members of the public or groups may have. However, as today’s ruling has made clear Friends of the Earth have been spreading false information and misleading the public about this important issue.

“For too long Friends of the Earth, and their Scottish counterparts Friends of the Earth Scotland, have been wilfully misleading the public on fracking to fulfil their anti-fossil fuel agenda. Hopefully this ruling will be a lesson to those organisations but more importantly give the public cause to reflect on the duplicity they have been subjected to by Friends of the Earth.”

Link to posts by one of the complainants in this case here and here

157 replies »

    • Just so everyone understands the process.
      I complained in Nov 2015. I got the response from FoE around Xmas 2015.
      I challenged FoE’s claims, sent 3 Jan 2016. Some additional material was submitted by both sides.
      In July 2015, a draft decision document was issued. It upheld all 4 claims. (I complained about toxic chems/carcinogens/water pollution/asthma, and Cuadrilla complained about them as well I suppose, but also house prices)

      From that point, I contacted the ASA every few weeks, and Foe wanted this extension, got lawyers in etc etc, all trying to delay the decision.
      In early Dec 2016 the second draft was issued and still upheld all of the complaints. The choice then was for FoE to risk allowing the matter to go for approval by the council (public humiliation) or just promising never to repeat the claims again and withdrawing those claims. (Hoping that this would get little publicity). The ASA rejected the idea that ‘this advert is no longer going to be used’ by making the extra restrictions. Otherwise it would be the same old rubbish with slightly different words. Thats why they put this statement in
      ‘FoE also explained that they would be willing not to repeat the claims, or claims which have the same meaning, in future, and we have therefore agreed to close the case informally.’

      This means that future ads will not include claims that imply…. (followed by a list of claims, water’toxic’carcinogenic etc)

      The second option didnt work that well! Its in publications that I have never heard of, and has got massive traction.

      Its appalling that Donna Hume still wants to claim ‘extracting shale gas is inherently risky for the environment’ when they have ZERO EVIDENCE for that. Its precisely that kind of rubbish science that I was complaining about.

      • Zero Evidence – absolutely false Ken. That kind of misinformation has destroyed your credibility. I’m surprised you are still around. ASA may be a bit slow on the uptake though. There are 167 references at the bottom of this wiki page:
        … also see (as linked on my comment higher up) for atmosphere/health impacts:

        • Phil, you’re going to have to understand that no one here is willing to take a guy seriously who has disavowed the scientific method. Ken and Michael are both pretty astute gentlemen, and they really don’t have time for the junk science that you attempt to spam us with. The FoE, ASA, as well as industry and scientists have all concluded that there is no evidence to back your contention that fracking causes cancer. You are a shining example of why your group are branded “extremists,” Phil. You are a danger to society! ;o)

          • I have never disavowed the scientific method – quote any example where I may have done this – this is your own hallucination I’m afraid, a wound licking backlash after clobbering your previous argument. If ever I need a pseudo science specialist however I will consult you.

            • So where is the evidence Phillip P? Please send it to Public Health England, or the ASA. US references or practices do not count, as they have different regulations and they permit different chemicals there

              • Ken – when *are* you going to get the ASA to rule on one of your many complaints? Your hit rate is a bit disappointing isn’t it?

              • Nonsense – are you not aware the our govt. EA’s risk assessment for hydraulic fracturing (have even looked at it?) regularly cites old Colorado, Penn State and Oklahoma industry papers and guidelines, many of which have been superseded, making ours out of date.

                Click to access LIT_8474_fbb1d4.pdf

                I keep posting links to evidence Ken. Do you have a aversion to mouse clicks?

        • “Your usual great stuff. You need to publicise this. How duplicitous can FoE get?”

          I wouldn’t overextend yourself Michael – defamation is still defamation and you and Kenny may find yourself on the receiving end of a writ one day. Now that WOULD be funny!

      • Oh Ken – that’s 5 times you have trued to get a ruling out of the ASA now and you have failed every time. you also tried to ruin Mike Hill’s career with a rambling complaint to the IET but they rejected that out of hand too didn’t they? You must be fuming!

        Could do better I think. If you need a lesson in how to put together an effective ASA complaint let me know 😉

    • Oh Michael – you know you don’t ever publish my comments on your blog – it seems you daren’t, but I’m glad you seem to enjoy them 🙂

      How’s the administration of Backing Fracking going – that’s a very strange thing for someone who claims “We are NOT ‘pro fracking’ as such” to be doing.

      You aren’t telling porkies again are you Your Reverence?

  1. I’m sorry, Mr Wilkinson, but in the USA Reuters published the following in 2015:

    “People who live in areas near hydraulic fracturing are more likely to be hospitalized for heart conditions, neurological illnesses and cancer, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.”

    I think people have a right to be concerned when big businesses move their operations on your doorstep. And the UK is far smaller than the USA.

    We should not believe the claims of profit making corporations. I trained in finance. I was told repeatedly that companies exist to make profits for their shareholders. That is it.

    One must presume Mr Wilkinson that you have some sort of vested interest in this or you would be equally as vocal in opposition to claims made by these drilling corporations.

    • john2020, this is junk science, and it was all thoroughly debunked. The proof is out there. If you were trained in finance then you should understand that profitability depends on a number of factors, and that most companies understand the need to taken into account all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

  2. Whether or not they are justified, the timing and publicising of these criticisms of Friends of the Earth are interesting. The draft ruling by the ASA on this affair was leaked to The Times newspaper on 28th September 2016, despite the fact that according to ASA procedure the draft ruling should remain confidential until both parties involved have had an opportunity to respond. It was never revealed who leaked this information to Murdoch’s fracking backing Times. The date however is significant, as this leaked information appeared just 8 days before Sajid Javid’s decision to overrule LCCs refusal of Cuadrilla’s plans.

    This latest development, which as far as I can see is more a case of ‘not proven’ since the ASA has not issued a ruling but has closed the case informally, nevertheless has given Francis Egan and his cohorts an opportunity to gloat. It has appeared just at a time when the media have been noticeably ramping up their pro fracking coverage. No doubt this is the industry PR and government led response to the.protectors camp which has been set up at Kirby Misperton plus the fact that Cuadrilla will most probably soon be making an appearance at Preston New Road.
    The same denigrating of FOE tactics were employed by Cuadrilla back in February 2015, when on the very opening day of the Public Inquiry into their Appeals they attempted to smear FOE, whose barrister Estelle Dehon was appearing against Cuadrilla. FOE were accused by Cuadrilla of misleading the Charity Commission and abusing their charitable status by lobbying against fracking when in fact the Ltd Company wing of FOE was perfectly entitled to lobby.

  3. I have a certain sympathy for genuine campaigners. However, the issue of fracking, or not, is now completely dominated by poor science, false claims/advertising and a disregard for the law. Greenpeace were taken apart recently on TV for falsifying data and now it is the same with FOE.
    I suspect no lessons will be learnt and activities at Kirby Misperton and Preston New Road will compound the situation. The “loonies” will have a fine old time, a few D list celebrities will try and get some publicity, but public sympathy will be lost and the genuine campaigners will be left wondering where it all went wrong.

  4. Andrew Neil interview regarding London traffic emissions. Probably about 10 days ago. Trying to justify a minor issue of banning diesel cars!

    “Data” fell apart as soon as it was challenged, and there seemed to an amusing assumption that it should, or would, not be challenged.

    (Mind you, politicians make the same sort of mistake believing they can get TV minutes and not be able to support their argument.)

  5. It’s difficult to understand exactly what kind of evidence the ASA would ever accept from FOE. Even though it becomes more obvious every day from numerous peer reviewed studies that fracking does have serious, harmful consequences to human and animal health and the environment, the industry and the government always use the get out that evidence from other places where fracking has taken place, however strong and proven it is, is irrelevant because we have Gold Standard Regulations.
    Similarly, it could be said that the claim regarding the reduction in the value of homes and increased insurance costs for residents affected by fracking cannot be proved because fracking has not yet begun. The fact remains though that the government’s own DEFRA Report, which they attempted to hide by redacting large sections, stated homes within 1 mile of fracking sites could expect a reduction in value of 7% and those within 5 miles of a site could have increased insurance costs.
    A recent One Poll Survey of 1,000 people across the UK found 64% would be hesitant to buy a home near fracking site.Of these 21% were somewhat unlikely and 43% were very unlikely to buy. The remaining 32% said they were in favour of fracking “if it meant lower energy bills” (which it has been admitted is not likely to be the case). It’s obvious that no one in their right mind would choose to purchase a home near a fracking site. Any sensible home buyer would surely consider that even if he was not too concerned about fracking, his home would be far more difficult or impossible to sell should he wish to later do so, which would be bound to reduce it’s value. I imagine builders and mortgage lenders, would also be reluctant to invest in properties affected by fracking.
    In the Fylde there is already evidence of reduced house valuations of far more than 7% and lost sales. I have met people who have been personally affected. No doubt Cuadrilla would tell the ASA that that is simply scaremongering and that when they begin work residents will realise they had nothing to fear. That is if they or their prospective buyers don’t mind the lanes around their rural homes being subject to 1000s of HGVs, lighting and drilling noise 24/7 and their view of the countryside, which was their reason for buying a home in that location blighted by a fracking site, although it would only be the size of 2 football pitches according to Francis Egan, so that’s alright then. That’s even before buyers consider the potential detrimental effects on the health of themselves or their children.
    Cuadrilla and the fracking backers may well be crowing at the moment but if the ASA has closed the case informally because they claim FOE have not provided proof, it follows that Cuadrilla’s claims that fracking will be safe, environmentally friendly, unobtrusive and will bring tens of thousands of jobs are also totally unproven..

  6. All too true Pauline. I’ve seen that evidence also, not just of the countless complaints and health impacts in the States but of a prospective house purchase falling through in the UK on the knowledge of future fracking plans. Is the ASA really independent?

  7. I suppose Friends of the Earth would claim that they occupy the high moral ground? As an environmental charity I would expect them to hold the highest ethical standards. Clearly they have neither. The interviews they have held in the media that I have heard today have reminded me of the same tactics that the climate change deniers use, that FOE (and incedently myself) so despise. They have behaved shamefully and show no remorse. I think they would be better named Friends of the anti-frack Echo Chamber. Certainly, in my opinion, they are one of the pioneers of the post truth culture that has taken a deep hold on the world in these increasingly dark days for the future of civilisation.

  8. Pauline, if you do not understand how the ASA work, I would suggest it better to give it a miss. The case brought was against FOE. Why try and justify their fault by trying to imply someone else might have done something similar? You only have to look at the poster at the top of this section to see what a blatant attempt was made to obtain money through claims that could not be supported. The fracking issue is being used to maintain a stream of revenue for these “charities” and it does your cause no good at all. These “claims” then appear on posters in Yorkshire and must be right, because you can Google it! When Ineos brings US fracked gas into Grangemouth there is the young reporter asking Ineos why they are not investing in low carbon energy! (Poor lass did not realise what a stupid question this was-science is obviously not a requirement.) Where did this question come from? Follow the trail, and you will see this is not just a one off.
    You talk absolute nonsense about all the disruption yet make no reference to how long that continues. Do you really believe it is a constant process? If it was, how does the gas have time to be extracted?
    The disruption to these areas is just as likely to come from campaigners blocking roads, and causing trespass, and they are not going to contribute any funds into the local community.

    I know quite a number of house owners who live very close to on-shore oil wells and are TOTALLY unaware they are there. Google house prices around Poole Harbour. Not exactly depressed.

    • Martin I do understand how the ASA work, as I brought the successful complaint against Cuadrilla. That resulted in a ruling unlike this one which was resolved informally without a ruling from the ASA council.

      The attempts today by the pro-frack mafia to turn this into something is simply isn’t tell us an awful lot about their lack of integrity and desperation.

      Surely you aren’t trying to to the Wytch Farm thing again are you Martin? That would be too funny today of all days. I’ll explain why if you haven’t read the ruling against Cuadrilla. Let me know.

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