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.”