Frackers' promises don't add up to a row of beans. Gas fracking on the Haynesville Shale near Shreveport, Louisiana. Photo: Daniel Foster via Flickr.
'Misleading' fracking ad 'must not appear again'
3rd September 2014
The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has ordered the withdrawal of an ad extolling the virtues of fracking, ruling that it is misleading, exaggerating, and lacks substantiation. In the process it has undermined the Government's entire case for fracking in the UK.
We told Breitling Energy Corporation to ensure that they held robust documentary evidence in support of claims likely to be regarded as objective and that were capable of objective substantiation ...
A reader of the Daily Telegraph saw red on reading an ad by Breitling Energy Corporation - one the the US's biggest frackers - making big promises about the benefits of fracking in the UK.
Now their complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been upheld on all six counts, as the ad is ruled to be making claims that are at the same time misleading, unsubstantiated and exaggerated.
"Dear Citizens of the United Kingdom", the ad began. "Do you know that your country is blessed with an incredible gift? It's shale gas - natural gas trapped in layers of shale rock deep below the surface of the earth ...
"The British Geological Survey has recently released new shale gas estimates considerably higher than former estimates. This is fantastic news for the UK - especially in the wake of a near-catastrophic gas shortage last winter ...
"This means: Decades worth of natural gas ... Millions of pounds in tax revenues to support social and other government programs ... Freedom from interruptions and stoppages as a result of Russia's political games with your gas supply ... Lowering energy prices for millions ... Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal with natural gas for energy ... "
But not a single claim held water!
But now its claims have been ruled out of order. The complainant set out the following issues, all of which were upheld following the ASA's painstaking research:
Claim 1: "a near-catastrophic gas shortage last winter" - false because it exaggerated the severity of the shortage.
ASA: "We considered that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the UK had been in real danger of running out of gas, and therefore that the reference to a 'near-catastrophic' shortage was misleading."
Claim 2: "This means ... decades worth of natural gas" - false because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, was not yet known.
ASA: "Because the report related to shale gas resources only and not reserves, and because we understood that informed opinion was at best divided as to the likely recovery factor of those resources, we concluded that the claim was misleading."
Claim 3: "This means ... Millions of pounds in tax revenues" - false because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, was not yet known.
ASA: "We considered that it was not possible definitively to calculate the likely tax revenues resulting from the resources identified by the BGS report ... We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading."
Claim 4: "interruptions and stoppages as a result of Russia's political games with your gas supply", because Russia did not supply gas to the UK and had never interrupted the UK's gas supply.
ASA: "the claim ... exaggerated the outcome of the 2009 Russia-Ukraine dispute for the UK and misled as to both the direct intent of Russia's actions and the probability of future similar events causing interruptions or shortages in the UK."
Claim 5: "This means ... Lowering energy prices for millions" - false because the amount of natural gas in the UK, and the economic viability of extracting it, was not yet known, and that in any case domestic extraction would have minimal impact on energy prices because the UK was part of an integrated European gas market.
ASA: "Whilst we acknowledged the view expressed by David Cameron that fracking in the UK had 'real potential' to drive down energy bills, we noted that that view was contingent upon a number of assumptions as to the size of UK shale gas reserves and the scale upon which extraction would be adopted, and were concerned in any case that the press article did not constitute robust documentary evidence in support of the claim."
Claim 6: "This means ... Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal with natural gas for energy" - false because there were no reliable estimates for the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction, that extraction carried the risk of methane emissions, which if unburnt was more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and that there was no certainty that gas would be used instead of, rather than in addition to, coal.
ASA: "it was not certain that the development of UK shale gas resources would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions where that happened alongside a concurrent reduction in the use of coal for energy. We also considered that the wording 'by replacing coal with natural gas for energy' implied that shale gas would be used instead of coal, when that was only one of several scenarios including an additional energy source to meet increased future demand."
A final telling off
In conclusion, the ASA admonished the Dallas, Texas based Breitling, "The claims must not appear again in their current form.
"We told Breitling Energy Corporation to ensure that they held robust documentary evidence in support of claims likely to be regarded as objective and that were capable of objective substantiation, that matters of opinion were not presented as objective claims, and that their future ads did not suggest that their claims were universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion existed."
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth commented: "Supporters of fracking claim that their opponents peddle myth and misinformation, but this verdict and a previous ASA decision against Cuadrilla for their 'misleading advertising', is a damning indictment of fracking industry spin."
But most remarkable is that Breitling's claims coincide precisely with those made by David Cameron, the UK's pro-fracking Prime minister, his equally pro-fracking Chancellor, David Osborne, and other Cabinet members.
Now that the claims they make at every opportunity have been subject to exhaustive scrutiny and found to be simultaneously misleading, unsubstantiated and exaggerated, will they change their tune?
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
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