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. Could somebody explain to me how fracking in the Fylde will contaminate water supplies when the majority of the Fylde’s water comes from Stocks Reservoir in Bowland.

    • Interesting that Stocks Reservoir’s catchment includes streams that erode Bowland Shale outcrops. As do other catchments in the Bowland Fells that supply drinking water to NW England consumers.

        • David; Obviously not – I am stating that drinking water from Stocks Reservoir and other catchments in the Bowland Fells has already been exposed to Bowland Shale – and what’s more the reactions with the rock minerals are in an oxidising envronment. I am just putting the fear mongering about shale and water contamination into context with the natural system and water supplies in NW England.

          • Nick that’s interesting – I always though that Stocks Reservoir was created in 1932 by the Fylde Water Board by flooding the Dalehead valley.

            Now, if the the Bowland Shale is separated from any aquifer by hundreds (thousands) of metres of impenetrable Manchester Marl (is that the right name?) how will the water in that reservoir have been exposed to the Bowland Shale? Excuse my layman’s ignorance but I’m struggling with that one. You expert explanation would be much appreciated.

            • Ah – having reread your first post I think you’ll tell me it’s because water is flowing over an outcrop, but is that really the same as water that has been lying down in the shale for millennia being mobilised by fracking fluid? Are the two different exposures really analogous?

            • Stocks water is used for drinking water. The water that comes out of shale wells is predominantly water that was pumped from surface so probably quite similar or to Stocks water. The water released from the gas produced is water bonded in the methane which is pure H2O.

            • Paul – I am familiar with the concept of flowback, but my understanding was that it is a combination of injected water and formation water which has been down there for a millennium of two. The analysis of flowback at Davyhulme suggests flowback fluid contains stuff you really wouldn’t want to drink, so I am surprised you describe t as “probably quite similar or to Stocks water”. Or are you saying that the water at Stocks DOES contain all that stuff and is purified of it all before we all drink it? That must be expensive!

              And how radioactive is the water in the reservoir?

            • Refraktion because the Bowland Shales are exposed at the surface in and around Stocks Reservoir, as is the case with most of the rivers and streams that flow off the Bowland Fells. See BGS geological 1:50, 000 Sheets 59, 60, 67 (all of which I assisted in mapping and dating the Bowland Shales).

            • John – as noted by Dr. Riley, the water at Stocks is in contact with the same rocks as the water injected as frack fluid will be in the Fylde. So one would expect that they pick up the same minerals / elements. UU will be able to advise if the Stocks water has any NORM but the outcropping Bowland Shale presumably has the same properties as the Bowland Shale at 6,000ft in the Fylde. And of course people live on outcropping Bowland shale in the Forest of Bowland and other places – presumably without any health issues? I would have thought (but I do not know for sure) that the granite Aberdeen City and many other places is built of has higher levels of natural radiation than the Bowland Shale. Perhaps Dr. Riley can comment on this?

            • So you both seem to be saying that momentary contact of flowing water with the shale is the same as mobilising water which has been in contact for thousands of years? Have I got that right?

            • Refracktion- the Bowland Shale at the depth being explored under the Fylde will be bone dry apart from bound water. The outcropping Bowland Shale will also have bound water. Bound water is difficult to mobilse (as it is bound to the rock minerals). There are copper deficiency issues with livestock that graze on the Upper Bowland Shales, due to the copper being unavailable biologically due to molybdenum binding the copper. Farmers have to give such livestock copper supplements. As regards radioactivity levels of the Bowland Shales compared to Aberdeen granite – both contain uranium, but I have no precise comparisons as to which one is the most radioactive rock, either as an average, or as a maximum reading.

            • I am not a Geologist (But Nick is) however my experience from drilling shales was that they did not contain moveable water; however shales could easily be destabilised by water in a water based drilling fluid or through osmosis in an oil based drilling fluid if the water phase salinity was not correct and the oil based mud emulsion deteriorated providing free water from the drilling fluid and destabilising the shale. So I think you probably can compare the two, Stocks and Bowland shale wells stimulated with water. Shales are hydrocarbon source rocks hence the presence of gas / oil depending on the shale type, organic content, burial depth and temperature.

            • That’s very interesting – so you both appear to be saying that the chemical composition of water in Stocks reservoir would pretty much match the analysis of the flowback water from Preese Hall then? If I am misunderstanding you perhaps you can explain why they might be different given what you are saying above ?

            • Paul Tresco -,the stability of shales in drilling is dominated by whether the shales have swelling clays. In the presence of water shale swith swelling clays will sweel. Naturally – becausesuch shales swell in the presence of water they will be avoided for hydrofracking – as any fractues would be occluded by the frack water reaction with the swelling clays. Of course swelling clays are an advantage above a target frack zone as frack fluids entering such a layer would cause the clayes to swell, increasing their ability to be an aquitard.. I help redesign Carsington Dam is Derbyshire by identifying stratigraphic shale intervals which had the approriate geotechnical characteristics to provide a stable dam construction. But what do I know – I’m just an expert – which seems to hold no credence in the wanton stupidity & deliberate ignorance of our modern culture.

    • David – I was told that 11% of Fylde households draw at least some of their water from boreholes. I don’t have a reference for that I’m afraid as it was mentioned in a phone call I made to either UU or the EA – it was 3 years ago now so I forget which, but I did note the figure.

  2. PhilipP, either you are unable to read or you work for FOE! The last two days and the reaction to the FOE saga quite ably shows a pretty limited ability to address facts.

    Where have I EVER denied climate change?? Look back at my posts, I even gave a whole input on what the climate was in Viking times!Make your own arguments if they are the only ones you can dominate, but leave me out of it. Climate change, man made climate change and effective means of dealing with both are all separate issues so do not think by mixing them all up you can impress anyone.
    On that basis, the simple answer would be mass extermination to prevent a global population of 10 billion and the impact that could have upon the planet-just think if they all broke wind together!

    • Martin – you said “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.)” – this is a typical CC deniers line. My assumption was based on that. Trump has appointed people who want to destroy the environmental Protection Agency and deny Global Warming.
      Where were you coming from with that then?

      Happy to know that you might take AGW seriously but, moving on, concerned to query your speed of judgement about the FoE statements if you had yet to show a corresponding interest in the realities of fracking .

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