FOE’s fracking leaflet – the key arguments


DrillOrDrop has identified some of the key arguments over Friends of the Earth’s disputed fund-raising leaflet about fracking.

Earlier this month, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told the organisation not to use the leaflet again or repeat sections of it without acceptable evidence. (DrillOrDrop report).

This followed a complaint from the shale gas company, Cuadrilla, and Ken Wilkinson and Michael Roberts, two members of the public who have frequently challenged anti-fracking campaign material.

It wasn’t possible to find out much about the case because the ASA resolved the case informally. This meant it did not publish the full grounds of the complaint or any of the defence. And there was no formal ruling by the ASA council on whether Friends of the Earth had been misleading or inaccurate.

But documents have since emerged from a similar complaint by Mr Wilkinson and Rev Roberts about the same leaflet to the now defunct Fund Raising Standards Board (linked here)

DrillOrDrop has used these documents and new material from Friends of the Earth to identify the main arguments for and against the statements in the leaflet. Link to compilation

They cover issues including:

  • Description of chemicals used in fracking
  • The use of silica
  • Health risks, including cancer and asthma
  • The risk of contamination of groundwater
  • House prices
  • Climate change

Friends of the Earth put forward evidence of the risk of additives used in the fracking process, the potential for water contamination and what it said were flaws in the regulatory process. The organisation said:

“We contend that there is a strong and growing body of evidence of the potential health risks from fracking.”

Mr Wilkinson argued that the industry was well regulated and regulations would reduce the likelihood of risks identified by Friends of the Earth. He said:

“Fracking has been performed offshore and onshore frequently, for decades in the UK, and there is no reason to think that the experienced regulators at the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] will not be able to cope with any slight differences.”

“We won’t be silenced on fracking”

Last week, Friends of the Earth defended the leaflet. It’s chief executive, Craig Bennett, said:

“We won’t be distracted from the real issues or silenced from telling people the truth. We continue to stand by our facts.

“Our environment needs protecting; it’s why we believe we should heed expert warnings and why we won’t apologise for rejecting this risky industry, as the people of Lancashire and their elected representatives did.”

Writing on FOE’s website and in a letter to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph last week, Mr Bennett said:

“For clarity, the ASA closed the case informally without making any ruling on our claims or their accuracy. This is in contrast to the formal ruling that the ASA made on the inaccuracy of misleading claims by Cuadrilla in 2013.

“In our case, Friends of the Earth agreed not to reuse an old leaflet, or repeat some specific wording, because the case was taking time away from vital campaigning – we are, after all, talking about an out-of-date leaflet from two years ago.

“But, one thing is certain, we continue to stand by our facts. Indeed, the scientific evidence against fracking is stronger than ever.”

Mr Bennett noted that in December 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency had identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. He also said:

“A letter from 18 health professionals including Dr Adam, former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Gerarda, former chair of the Royal College of GPs, says that ‘the arguments against fracking on public health and ecological grounds are overwhelming’.

“Vitally, if we’re to deal with climate change, fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Fracking just isn’t compatible with that.”

Mr Wilkinson, who has complained to the ASA several times about anti-fracking materials, responded:

“FoE have used justifications that do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

“They have ignored UK law on chemicals, ignored regulations that mean many US style incidents cannot occur here, and have used very suspect sources for their conclusions, while ignoring reliable sources such as the Royal Academy of Engineering report of fracking.

“I feel that FoE are in a very difficult position, legally and morally. They are ignoring the regulator, playing fast and loose with Charity Commission standards, and continuing to mislead the public.”

Link to compilation of arguments

63 replies »

  1. … taken out of context. I invite anyone to read the full report – which also says “A Yale University study released in September found that Pennsylvania residents living less than two-thirds of a mile from natural-gas wells were much more likely to report skin and upper-respiratory problems than people living farther away”. “A Colorado School of Public Health analysis published in April found 30 percent more congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers in gas-well-intensive parts of that state than to mothers with no wells within 10 miles of their homes.”
    And a 2013 study for the state of West Virginia found benzene, a carcinogen, above levels considered safe by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry near four of seven gas well pads where air was sampled.. ”

    We’re talking about science in progress because both industry and State regulators have not shown due diligence in establishing the science in depth on these matters. The problems and timescale are compounded by inadequate baseline studies which cannot be engineered post hoc. We’ve been around this loop before TW.

    The data contradicts your statement about no clustering or association by proximity. Furthermore, to quote “We knew people were getting really sick, and more and more data started coming out about air issues, and the state refused to do any real testing,” said Thomas, 60, now director of ShaleTest, an environmental data-collection nonprofit based in Texas. “And so we decided we would start doing some testing ourselves.” Observations like this stand as valid prima facie evidence (of which there is plenty) in the absence of any concrete disproof.

    • Size samples are also important. Congenital heart defect is rare and so are the population around fracking sites are also small. If they sample only a few sites then sampling could be an issue that make their findings less compelling.

    • Michael – what are you “peddling” on that blog that you keep referring to from your Backing Fracking Facebook page?

  2. Well and patiently argued Philip P. Scientists are not immune from finding evidence to suit their prior conviction, and under threat of funding cuts from this bigoted, cruel, and short-sighted government, many nationally funded bodies are making pronouncements which suit their paymasters. The BBC’s political news, the Arts council’s priorities, public enquiry conclusions, whether to have public enquiries, the time it take for them to give a conclusion ….. the UK Environmental Agency will be no different. May’s government already got rid of the Renewable Energy department, the EA won’t want to be “replaced” by something “better” because they express the uncomfortable truth that there is a lot or research material detailing negative health effects around fracking wells in the US waiting to be gathered together and looked at seriously.

    • Janet – as you seem to have difficulty finding where the Government has put the EC out of DECC – exactly where it used to be and where it should have stayed:

      The department brings together responsibilities for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change.

      BEIS is a ministerial department, supported by 47 agencies and public bodies.

      What we do

      The department brings together responsibilities for business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change.

      We are responsible for:

      developing and delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy and leading the government’s relationship with business
      ensuring that the country has secure energy supplies that are reliable, affordable and clean
      ensuring the UK remains at the leading edge of science, research and innovation
      tackling climate change

      • Thanks Janet . Yes, in effect they (govt.) have dropped the ball on climate change and related renewable energy issues. There will be tokenism in that direction for a while, just to appear to toe the line, but I see the minister now in charge of CC doesn’t actually understand it. Same thing happening on the other side of the Atlantic.

        So we’re kind of stuck with the outdated dogmatic kinds of thinking that you see amongst the pro-frackers here – averse to research and clinging to the old school ‘science’, or their idea of it. It will take a newer generation to overthrow this kind of hoary thinking after a lot more damage has been done to the environment.

  3. I would suggest this is now simply, “we lost that argument so let’s have a different argument”!

    All very interesting to some, but for those asked to give “£30 to help use the media” and having seen the comments from some of the media editorials about the FOE saga, I would suspect much more than £30 will be needed.

    Editorial approach is not the same as advertising policy, but some media will now be very careful to scrutinise much more closely.

  4. I was on Preston station yesterday. A lady was being thoughtless, blocking a door to the café, when I was wanting to quickly grab a coffee before the Barrow train came in. She had a big badge with the slogan (slogans are what debate is now reduced to unfortunately) “FRACK FREE LANCS”. I so much wanted to change her slogan, or even make my own badge – “SO YOU WANT A FACT FREE LANCS?” – but I had to dash for the train.

    • Yes. Anti fracking movement is becoming more and more like a cult. A strong religous like belief in their view with less and less regards for a balanced critical review, judgement or thought of science and facts.

    • Your badge on facts would obviously read

      Cuadrilla aim to be a ‘model company’
      Cuadrilla carried out 6 small fracks.
      They blindly drilled through a fault
      That triggered 50 seismic events
      The largest event was 2.3 magnitude, caused damage to property and was felt miles away
      The British Geological Survey state these events would be likely in an future operations
      Cuadrilla have asked to be allowed to trigger larger events
      The well casing buckled
      Cuadrilla had technical problems when they abandoned the well
      Cuadrilla want to make Lancashire the ” largest gas field in the whole of Western Europe”.
      The majority of the community have said no, the parish council said no, the district council said no, and the county council said no but me and a few others I think it is a great idea to do lots more.

      I will look out for you wearing the badge of facts unless you disagree that these are the facts to date

  5. But now COE supports fracking, what sort of religious cult, TW?

    I can quite understand the COE approach. If the world was created by their boss and he/she placed vast quantities of gas within UK shale, it follows pretty logically that it was a resource for Adam and Eve’s descendants to utilise!

    Eleven, time for my apple!

    • Martin. I think CoE made their position based on unbiased facts and evidence. As workers of Gods their responsibility is to seek truth and act accordingly. Natural justice and the truth are the willing of Gods. Whereas the cult is more of their own personal interests and interpretation of the truth to suit their personal belief and agenda.

    • More likely a post hoc rationalisation once God pointed out that they stand to make millions out of it.

      Being major land holders (primary title holders of large tracts of land in England) and also being one of the few authorities, besides the State/Crown with statutory mineral rights, they will be able to drive a hard bargain with O&G. Interesting.

      • I doubt that financial gain is the main drive behind CoE as you tried to imply. If they are they would not have divested from fossil fuels investment.

        • Oh well they’ll probably change their tune if/when they get up to date on the real impacts of onshore shale gas and learn that it is not the bridge fuel that it is hyped up to be.

  6. Very interesting, indeed Philip. I suppose there should be some praise for speculation, it is a step in the right direction, from the past towards, facts, science and the truth. However, I am not convinced this is a road to total redemption!

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