A campaign website which said fracking was incompatible with tackling climate change did not break the advertising code, the watchdog has said.
In a ruling published this morning, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) did not uphold a complaint that the statement on a Friends of the Earth web page was misleading, exaggerated or unsubstantiated.
The ASA also did not uphold a complaint about a statement by the organisation that “fracking risks contaminating groundwater”.
“Serious doubts that fracking can meet climate tests”
Friends of the Earth told the ASA there were “serious doubts” that shale gas production at scale would meet three tests, set by the Committee on Climate Change, to be compatible with UK climate targets.
The first test – that emissions at development, production and decommissioning stages must be strictly limited – depended on the strength of UK regulation, FoE said. In 2016, the CCC said the UK needed clearer and stronger regulation.
On the second test – gas consumption must remain in line with carbon budget requirements – Foe said there were no provisions to ensure shale gas produced by the UK would remain unused by another nation.
The third test – accommodating shale gas production emissions within carbon budgets – was unlikely to be met, FoE said. A report from University of Edinburgh quoted by the organisation estimated that just a 1% rate of fugitive emissions from shale gas would risk exceeding UK carbon budgets.
Even if all three tests were met, FoE said it would not show that fracking was compatible with tackling climate change. It said the CCC had considered only UK climate targets, which were lower than the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees.
From FoE’s evidence, the ASA said it understood:
- Shale gas found through fracking would be over and above known fossil fuels in the UK
- Shale gas could not help to phase out coal for electricity production in the UK because it would not be available for another 10-15 years
- UK shale gas production would be unlikely to displace fossil fuel production in other countries
The ASA said:
“On the basis of the substantiation provided we considered that the claim was not likely to mislead consumers who viewed the web page, based on their understanding of the claim and the overall context in which it was presented. We therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading.”
“Regulators unable to prevent pollution”
On the risk of fracking to groundwater, Friends of the Earth argued that the regulatory framework in the UK was relatively untested and it could not ensure that the risk of contamination was removed.
A report commissioned by the organisation showed that groundwater contamination could have a significant impact on drinking water sources. It argued that the regulatory systems were unable to prevent pollution occurring.
There was a strong overlap between aquifers used for groundwater supply and areas where fracking could take place, FoE said. The British Geological Survey had reported that aquifers used for public water supply extended across 81% of England and Wales and, of these, 47% were underlain by shale or clays.
The ASA said the evidence showed that where communities relied on water from Source Protection Zones 2 and 3 (where fracking is allowed), there was a risk that fracking could contaminate groundwater and that the groundwater could end up being used as drinking water.
It concluded that the statement was not misleading.