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 »

  1. Just heard the FOE spokesperson on CH4 News again going on about Germany & the Australian State of Victoria banning fracking. Both of these juristictions are heavily dependent on lignite – the most polluting fuel from the perspective of Green House Gas Emissions. Shameful selectivity from FOE!!. FOE have lost their moral compass IMHO.

      • Oh dear – I don’t think a vicar who publicly condones theft is in much of a position to lecture others on their moral compass Michael. What do you reckon?

        • Refracktion – instead of using the diversionary tactic of attacking Michael, actually acknowledge that FOE have lost their moral compass??

          • Nick – it’s not a diversionary tactic – it’s simply a reaction to the man’s hypocrisy. Why are you defending that? Have you lost your own moral compass?

            • On this case, in my opinion as a third party observer, FoE leaflet was quite serious and border line charity fraud. Their false claims and their meaning are very very serious and emotionally powerfull issues. To make it worse they used these emotionally important concerns of the residents to ask for money. This make them look like they are targetimg the vulnerabilities of concrrning resident on false claims. These combination of offence that make their action and strategy look sneaky and cunning.

              • I have no brief to defend FoE TW. I seriously do believe people should restrict themselves to statements that can be justified on both sides. That’s why I find Peeny so laughable.

                FoE may have overstepped the mark but there was no ruling made so clearly any infringement must have been minor. That’s just the way this process works.

                But you know it really does stick in my craw when I see people I know to be hypocrites from documented examples lecturing others on moral compasses.

                Even this morning the Reverend Roberts was claiming of himself and his co-conspirator on his blog that “We are NOT ‘pro fracking’ as such”, but we have evidence that suggests that they both have admin access to the Backing Fracking Facebook Admin account (evidence readily available).

                If being a Backing Fracking admin is not being “pro-fracking as such” perhaps somebody can explain what is? The inescapable conclusion is that we were getting a moral homily from somebody in no position to deliver one in spite of his apparent qualifications.

                I wonder if the Reverend Roberts will deny being an admin of that group? (I doubt even he’d be that foolish though)

                And that’s in addition to his crowing over the theft of private property belonging to real local residents (not the ones they pretend support his astroturf group). (evidence readily available)

    • Michael, and for this new little echo chamber of yourself Nick Riley and Martin Collyer I’ll put this question again (from earlier). Please don’t run away like the other Michael did above. I wonder if your bold chest thumping can be matched by any clarity of research. You see I’m very interested in where the truth lies in this ‘post truth’ world:
      … Can you please state which bit of the leaflet as displayed at the top-of-page could be called “lying propaganda”. I looked down the list of statements on the orange front page and from the history of human exposure to fracking none of those points could be claimed untrue. Citizens in the states are now so fed up with the so called self monitoring of the industry and toothless protection agencies that they have been founding initiatives and establishing data records that (by now) are substantial enough to be scientifically verified -example links:

      • Philip, I am not in an echo chamber. Thank you for the links you provided. The study is very poor. It admits that the contaminants measured are also found in consumer products. There is no control group to compare the measured population. Also, they claim that the results confirmed what they already “knew”. Enough said – this is junk science.

        • “Can you please state which bit of the leaflet as displayed at the top-of-page could be called “lying propaganda”. ” Well, the leaflet actually does not give the reasons why LCC councillors came to their decision. Also – the image of the countryside is from the Lake District. I will give you a clue as to why the Lower Palaeozoic shales in the Lake District will never be fracked for gas. You will have to work that one out for yourself – perhaps a pencil will give you a clue??

  2. Sorry Nick but that’s a junk answer. It’s all too easy to bandy about terms like Junk Science as if you can grab the high moral ground in a single leap. What the community study does is reveal its methods and it also concludes that “They are calling for further biomonitoring testing of people living or working near oil and gas sites” – i.e. putting evidence before conclusions … that’s science – while you are simply putting your conclusion ‘junk science’ before all else, but based on a single assumption.

    But the study explores the possible explanations for residents concerns about rising health issues and also it notes that many of the chemicals of concern were present in the participants’ bodies at concentrations far exceeding background averages in the US population. That kind of suggests you should keep an open mind here doesn’t it? You dismiss this on the basis that if those chemicals are also found in some typical consumer products. Wouldn’t you want to know why those raised concentrations weren’t found therefore in the general US population? It’s an ongoing study

    They refer also to the 2014 Stanford University study (are you dismissing that too?) and the guy in the cowboy hat (main report) I think is the farmer from Wyoming who addressed an Australian audience – a straight talking dude well worth listening to if you can find the time – just try and imagine the effects on the wide open prairie land he’s talking about transposed onto a tight, population dense, English environment. I’d just ask that you keep an open mind before leaping to any conclusions.

    Still awaiting any refutation of the leaflet claims … your point about the Lakeland picture is a good one. but what about the text (claims)

  3. Philip, If you are going to do a medical toxology study recruitment has to be exceedingly careful. A control group (perhaps several) need to be chosen that closely matches the group being studied. This is a very basic requirement of any credible study. Average population levels of toxins (present in many consumer products) across the whole of the USA does not cut the mustard. A control group (or better groups) as close as possible in all population characteristics as the target group for study needs to be found – except that control group (s) should only be different in that they are not exposed to oil & gas operations. The number of individuals recruited also need to be statistically significant. It takes many years to do such studies and even then the conclusions may not be robust. That’s the way it is. Good science has to be rigorous. There are no short cuts.

    • “It takes many years to do such studies and even then the conclusions may not be robust. That’s the way it is. Good science has to be rigorous. There are no short cuts.” – Dr Nick Riley MBE

      Excellent – May I quote this response when Peeny asks why there are not yet “proven” cases of health impacts from HVHF fracking Nick?

      • Refraktion, you are probably aware of this study on an association with dementia and proximity of populations to major roads in urban environments published today in The Lancet. It confirms the approach to elucidating public health impacts, I advocated in our discussion on this blog last night.

        It does not prove a causal relationship and much more work will be required to confirm what the reason is for the association. What the the study does show is how a very large population sample, monitored over considerable time, together with very careful methodology takes a huge amount of effort and still the results do not prove a direct relationship of cause and effect. There is nothing anything like as rigorous as this study with regard to health impacts from fracking.

  4. Philip, Also, the study you link to implies that VOCs that the population is exposed to are only oil and gas related. Of course any toxicology study would have to look at other VOC sources that are not oil & gas related that also could have an potential impact on public health. Perhaps, now you can at least get a glimpse of how complex the sources, pathways and exposures of VOC toxins to human populations are? Simplistic studies that attempt to prove what the researchers claim they already “knew” clearly fall short. See

    • This still doesn’t dismiss early results of an emerging study, nor does it mean it’s bad science. They have award winning scientists on their team and I’m sure they’re aware of all that, including the need to broaden the samples. It’s an industry failure that those studies have been missing for so long and a national failure that this should ever have been left to communities and counties to sort out for themselves – much of the (pollution) science had already been done … but from around 2005 there were Federally sanctioned exemptions in the form of 1) The Safe Drinking Water Act – which exempts fracking from SDWA oversight, 2) The Clean Air Act – exempting oil & gas wells and instances of condensing and pumping stations (unlisting them as sources of pollution), 3) The Clean Water Act – exempting O&G construction discharges of pollutants into the waters of the USA, and four other major exemptions. In some areas the EPA ceded authority to regulate waste products to individual states.

      You have to start somewhere and the urgency is in the fact that people are getting sick around pad sites. Should I take it then that you’re in favour of not waiting for these studies to fully emerge, rush into shale development here, then spend the next ten years trying to figure out why so many people are experiencing serious (fracking related) health impacts in the UK?

  5. Philip what would be interesting is the level of health impacts that the fear mongering of the anti-fracking campaigners might have inflicted on populations??. With regard to the Fukoshima nuclear incident it appears that early results show that the main impacts on the population have been psychological and not radiological. The anti-frack campaigners, if they are truly concerned about public health, need to be very sure of their facts before they deliberately scare local communities. In the case of the FoE leaflet they have been clearly shown by an independent body that they were making unsubstantiated claims.

    As regards the Pavillion study – if as you say very renowned scienctists are involved – then why have they not used control groups? Even a half decent GSE student in Biology would have known that fundamental requirement.

    • You male an interesting point Nick – have you read Dr Soluzcha’s work which looks at the impact of the threat of fracking on local populations? We need to be careful not to confuse causes and symptoms here of course, don’t we?

    • Nick – you just need to distinguish between awareness raising and scare-mongering. I’ve suggested elsewhere that FoE need to update their leaflet and be careful about sources and verifiable facts, but all of those points they make on the body text of the orange front page are solid enough. Do you think putting a hazard sign near a substation or a cliff edge is scare mongering? Do you think alerting people to the magnitude of trucking, waste management, ground water demands (and risks), and then the truth about rogue emissions etc etc – I mean actual facts, which the industry hardly ever is up front and honest about, is scare mongering?

  6. These wars about who can cut and post the most obscure piece of “information” are all very interesting, but the point of the ASA decision is that they refer to “claims about likely effects” should stop. Quite simply, speculation is quite different from fact and is only a small step away from fabrication. £30 requested to help FOE with utilising the media to spread their message, when that message is shown to be speculation is what is wrong here. If the antis think they will just ignore this and carry on, they might find that is not the best approach.

    This is not a single incident from within the campaigning “charity” sector where such tactics have been utilised and it is interesting that they are now being challenged. People do not like being taken for fools.

    Tax payers now having to cough up around £400m for badly constructed alternative energy schemes in N.Ireland may seem a disconnected issue but it is not. The whole gravy train around global warming and how it is managed is going to come under increasing scrutiny and funding will be more controlled (certainly from Trump.) Organisations that have been riding this train for all it brings need to get their act together.

    • Martin – Leaving this particular FoE issue to one side for a moment, do you really feel that informing the public about potential risk is something to be avoided? I think you will find that most people posting on here (apart from Peeny maybe) are quite careful about how they phrase things and ensure that there is some documentary evidence to support any claims made.

      This is clearly not a black and white issue – both sides claims to have evidence, and as Dr Riley pointed out above “It takes many years to do such studies and even then the conclusions may not be robust. That’s the way it is. Good science has to be rigorous. There are no short cuts.” Discussing emerging hypotheses and evidence seems quite sensible to me, but then so does a cautious approach in the face of climate change which you appear to have an issue with too.

      Maybe we’ll have to agree to differ?

    • A little different to what the FOE spokeswoman said on BBC & Channel 4 news last night. It would appear Ken Cronin was correct. At least both channels made FOE look ridiculous although FOE doesn’t need a lot of help. But why lie on National TV. Just come clean on what the ASA and FOE agreed and get on with the campaign. Weird behaviour…….

  7. I have NO issue concerning a cautious approach in the face of climate change. What I have an issue with is the ban something we don’t understand brigade, or the let’s spend billions of pounds on “alternative” energy sources which are ill conceived and then support it with poor science and speculation.
    Nobody can successfully claim that the issue of climate change has not become a huge industry around the world. (Let’s all go to Rio for congress-and read into that what you like!) As such, it should live up to the same scrutiny as other huge industries, and indeed, more so, as most of it’s funding comes from tax payers rather than shareholders.

  8. Is that it ?? Nobody can successfully disprove any of the FoE’s main statements – that you’ve been so energetically denouncing as ‘lying propaganda’ and ‘false claims’ …. suggests that there’s an un-reality bubble going on here (with a certain alt-right flavour – added to by Martin bringing climate change denial into the frame).

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