In Depth

Friends of the Earth rebuked for anti-fracking leaflet

Advertising watchdog orders environmental campaign group not to repeat misleading claims

Friends of the Earth (FoE) must not repeat misleading claims it made in an anti-fracking leaflet, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered. 

Fundraising documents from the group claimed fracking chemicals could pollute drinking water and cause cancer, while also implying the process increased rates of asthma, reports the BBC.

An ASA spokesman said the advert "must not appear again in its current form" and that the group must "not 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".

He added that the case had been "informally resolved" as Friends of the Earth had agreed to not repeat the claims.

The watchdog was brought in following complaints by energy company Cuadrilla, which last October was given permission to frack for shale gas in Lancashire.

Following yesterday's announcement, chief executive Francis Egan said: “Friends of the Earth’s repeated falsehoods have been exposed as nothing more than scaremongering designed to frighten the public into giving it money.”

However, Donna Hume, a senior campaigner at FoE, said: “No ruling has been made against us. The ASA offered to drop the case without ruling after we confirmed that a particular leaflet was no longer being used.

 “We continue to campaign against fracking because burning fossil fuels is dangerous for the climate. As well as that, the process of exploring for and extracting shale gas is inherently risky for the environment, this is why fracking is banned or put on hold in so many countries.”

This is the second setback for Friends of the Earth in a month, reports the Financial Times. In December, it failed to persuade the UK High Court to block planning permission for fracking at a site near Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.

Cuadrilla has itself fallen foul of the ASA for making unsupported marketing claims in the past, reports The Guardian. In 2013, the company was censured for claiming it uses "proven, safe technologies".

Government overturns local council in landmark fracking ruling

6 October 

Controversial "horizontal fracking" to extract underground shale gas has just been given the green light by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

In approving an appeal by the drilling company Cuadrilla, the former business secretary has overturned a ruling by Lancashire County Council, which rejected two planning applications last June due to their potential impact on local residents in terms of noise and traffic.

Cuadrilla has appealed against that ruling, citing the approval of the projects by local planning officials and the Environmental Agency.

After today's decision, exploration of four wells at one site, Preston New Road, has been given the full go-ahead.

A decision on the second site, Roseacre Wood, has been deferred to allow all the parties time to provide further evidence. But The Guardian reports Javid is "minded" to grant permission for the four proposed wells there as well.

Until today no horizontal fracking, which allows drilling to extend up to 1km underground from the original well site, has ever been approved in the UK. Only one vertical well, in Ryedale in Yorkshire, currently has approval. Drilling is not expected to begin there until next year.

"Shale gas has the potential to power economic growth, support 64,000 jobs, and provide a new domestic energy source, making us less reliant on imports," says Javid.

"We will take the big decisions that matter to the future of our country as we build an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few."

Fracking is extremely contentious. It was banned in 2011 after being linked to an earthquake in Blackpool, but that prohibition was lifted in 2012. Since then many licences to drill have been issued, but companies still need to get planning permission from local councils.

Amid huge opposition from environmental groups and local residents, councils have proved difficult to convince on the merits of the policy.

Theresa May has stated her commitment to shale gas and the government has demanded planning applications are fast-tracked. The Prime Minister has also floated the idea of compensating residents near planning sites from a £1bn fund.

Pam Foster, co-founder of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, told the BBC: "This is a total denial of democracy. Our parish council, our borough council, our county council all threw out this application.

"We have pursued every democratic channel we can do, there's nothing left for us. We're pretty disgusted and very upset."

Households near fracking sites could get £20,000 windfall

8 August

Households affected by fracking could receive big payouts after the government suggested a portion of the proceeds from shale gas projects be given directly to communities in which drilling takes place.

Former chancellor George Osborne set up a £1bn shale wealth fund in 2014 to set aside up to ten per cent of the tax proceeds from fracking to help affected areas.

This was originally earmarked to be handed to local authorities to fund community projects, but new Prime Minister Theresa May is considering paying the money directly to individual households.

Speaking ahead of the consultation launch, May said the proposals showed how the new government "will be driven by the interests of the many". The scheme could be extended to other government programmes if successful.

"It's about making sure people personally benefit from economic decisions that are taken and putting them back in control over their own lives," she said.

While an exact figure has yet to be set, communities would benefit to the tune of about £10m each. The BBC says it understands the amount given to individual households could be as high as £10,000, while the Independent says it could even rise to £20,000.

Green campaigners have attacked the move, arguing that fracking has a long-term environmental impact and that previous attempts by the government "to sweeten the fracking pill with cash payments" had failed.

The BBC's political correspondent, Chris Mason, said: "One person's bribe is another's compensation."

In the US, landowners are deemed to own all resources in the ground beneath their properties and are paid lucrative royalties for allowing shale deposits to be exploited. The Daily Mail says the shale boom there has created a number of "fracking millionaires", muting protests against the operations.

The law is different in the UK, though, as fuel resources in the ground belong to the Crown.

Fracking plans approved by MPs, but why all the fuss?

17 December

Controversial plans to allow fracking beneath national parks were approved in parliament yesterday afternoon fuelling accusations that ministers "sneaked" the move through a "parliamentary backdoor".

Campaigners criticised the lack of a Commons debate on the issue - and said the government's plans represented a U-turn on its previous pledge to ban fracking in national parks.

What is fracking?Hydraulic fracturing is a 21st-century form of energy extraction that involves pumping huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks and extract gas. Advocates say it has transformed the US economy, while campaigners argue it raises huge concerns including the possibility that chemicals could spread to water supplies.

What is the legislation that has gone ahead?The draft regulations approved yesterday allow fracking to take place 1,200 metres below national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites. Drilling to access these areas would still have to take place from outside the protected zones. The draft legislation was approved this afternoon by 298 votes to 261, with a majority of 37.

Why has it caused so much outrage?The timing of the decision has been particularly controversial, coming, as it does, just days after the Paris climate change agreement and in the aftermath of the general election. During a Commons vote in January, MPs overwhelmingly rejected an outright ban on fracking, although ministers pledged to prevent fracking in national parks. That has led to accusations of a U-turn. Campaigners such as Friends of the Earth say the rules put drinking water and national parks at risk, while shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy accused the government of sneaking the rules through without proper parliamentary debate, labelling it "frankly shabby".

What does the government say?David Cameron has repeatedly expressed support for fracking, stressing its economic benefits and saying it could create tens of thousands of jobs. "I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well," he has previously said.

Fracking: Britain needs exploratory drilling to assess benefits, report says

15 December

A task force investigating fracking has urged the government to allow exploratory drilling to assess exactly what benefits the UK could expect to see from tapping into underground deposits of shale gas.

Prime Minister David Cameron is banking on Britain's shale gas deposits to reduce reliance on imported fuels, as well as to give tax revenues a boost.

It is also thought that the development of the fracking industry could attract billions of pounds of investment and create as many as 74,000 jobs, according to a 2013 report by the Institute of Directors.

However, a task force examining the pros and cons of fracking in the UK has cautioned today that not enough is known about the exact amount of shale gas hidden beneath the ground, reports Reuters.

"We know roughly where there are shale rocks and where there is likely to be shale gas but exactly how much is genuinely recoverable no one knows at the moment," said Lord Chris Smith, the former Environment Agency chief who is leading Task Force on Shale Gas.

He added: "Only when we have a better understanding… will the public be able to make an informed decision as to whether they support it."

The report released by the group recommends that the government allows companies to start fracking on an exploratory basis.

The controversial technique involves fracturing underground rocks with a high-pressure jet of water, sand and chemicals to release the shale gas within.

Anti-fracking campaigners claim that the procedure has been linked to polluted water supplies and an increased risk of earthquakes, and argue that the government should invest in clean, renewable energy instead.

Although the task force is funded by energy companies, it claims to be an independent body, with Lord Smith telling The Guardian last year that he is "absolutely certain" of its impartiality.

Elsewhere in its report, the Task Force on Shale Gas stated that, if safety procedures were followed correctly, shale gas extraction would pose no significant health risk, although it acknowledged the possibility of a brief dip in house prices in affected areas.

Anti-fracking campaigners ridiculed over 'cancer' claims

20 October

Campaigners have been mocked for claiming the sand used in fracking could cause cancer.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth has circulated thousands of leaflets claiming that fracking would expose neighbourhoods to chemicals that could cause cancer because it involved "pumping millions of litres of water containing a toxic cocktail of chemicals deep underground . . . [which] could end up in your drinking water".

However, Paul Younger, a professor of energy engineering at the University of Glasgow, told The Times that the claims were ridiculous. "Sand is silica, it's exactly the same stuff that's on every sandy beach in the country," said Younger.

He went on: "What are they proposing? That we treat all beaches as contaminated land and pave them over? The debate about fracking should be on the basis of reason, not wild, unsubstantiated allegations."

Also pouring scorn on the group's cancer claim is Clive Mitchell, an industrial minerals specialist at the British Geological Survey, whose work  was cited by Friends of the Earth to support its allegation. "It's tantamount to scaremongering. It's inaccurate and misleading," he said.

A less surprising opponent of the cancer link is the fracking firm Cuadrilla. The company said that it was planning to make complaints about the "wilfully misleading" leaflet to the Charity Commission, Advertising Standards Authority and the Fundraising Standards Board.

This is not the first time that fracking has been linked to serious illness. In 2013, a study claimed that chemicals used in the process could cause infertility, cancer and birth defects.

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