Fracking fake news: Friends of the Earth Issues Apology

Written by Ben Webster, Times of London

A green campaign group has agreed not to repeat misleading claims about the health and environmental impacts of fracking after complaints to the advertising watchdog.

Friends of the Earth spent more than a year trying to defend its claims, which were made in a fundraising leaflet, but has been forced to withdraw them.

The group’s capitulation is a victory for a retired vicar and a retired physics teacher who have been working for years to expose what they believe is scaremongering about a safe technique for extracting shale gas.

The Rev Michael Roberts and Ken Wilkinson complained about Friends of the Earth’s claims to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which also received a complaint from the fracking company Cuadrilla.

The authority found that Friends of the Earth (FoE) failed to substantiate claims that fracking could cause cancer, contaminate water supplies, increase asthma rates and send house prices plummeting.

The ASA produced its draft ruling in July but was forced to delay sending it to its council for approval because FoE repeatedly requested more time to challenge the findings. The group finally agreed not to repeat the claims in a deal with the ASA under which it has avoided having a formal ruling against it.

The ASA said: “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.”

Mr Wilkinson, who said that he had no connection with the fracking industry and was acting purely to ensure the public received accurate information, welcomed the ruling. “It is outrageous that FoE used false information to raise money,” he said. “We need a frank debate about fracking and its potential impacts but it should be based on facts, not scaremongering.”

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said: “FoE’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.”

He called on the Charity Commission to take action against FoE, which he said had breached a previous commitment to the charity regulator to stop campaigning against fracking.

Cuadrilla is planning to start constructing a shale gas exploration site near Blackpool this month, with fracking due to start there in the autumn. In October the government overruled Lancashire county council, which had rejected Cuadrilla’s plans to drill and frack four wells at Preston New Road.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which represents fracking companies, said that the ASA had consulted with “numerous independent scientific, health and regulatory experts before concluding that the anti-fracking myths perpetrated by Friends of the Earth were fundamentally false”.

He added: “The opponents of onshore oil and gas development must withdraw their scaremongering rhetoric and argue on the basis of the facts, which quite clearly show that the risks associated with fracking can be mitigated by the strong regulation and world-renowned best practice that we benefit from in the UK.”

FoE declined to respond directly to questions about its agreement with the ASA. A spokeswoman 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.”


Reaction to the news skeptic researcher Paul Homewood observed:

“I don’t think that the fact FOE have been caught lying will come as any great surprise to any of us. But there are two deeper questions:

1) Can they be trusted on any other issues?

2) What is their real motive for opposing fracking, which they now admit does not pose the dangers they claimed?”