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Evidence, the friend of the reputable NGO

Author : Alan Franck, Editor, Hazardex

06 January 2017

NGOs and charities play an important role in our society as watchdogs and lobbyists for the causes they seek to defend and promote. Sometimes, however, they can get carried away with the righteousness of their cause and make claims or organise interventions that can bring them into disrepute.

Driller killer? Probably not...
Driller killer? Probably not...

A recent example is Friends of the Earth (FoE), which has been rebuked by the UK advertising regulator after a 14-month investigation and ordered not to repeat pseudo-scientific claims about the negative economic, environmental and health effects of fracking in Britain.

FoE published a scaremongering campaign leaflet last year warning that fracking would be responsible for everything from falling house prices to asthma and cancer. Now the Advertising Standards Authority has extracted a pledge from the group that future literature will not include the claims, none of which could be evidenced.

The watchdog said FoE must:
*  Not claim that fluid used in fracking contains chemicals dangerous to human health or that it would contaminate drinking water;
*  Not claim a US fracking site was responsible for increases in asthma rates or that the public would be at risk of equivalent increases in asthma rates in the UK;
*  Not claim that there is an established risk of the chemicals concerned causing cancer and other conditions among the local population;
*  Not claim that fracking will cause plummeting house prices.

UK regulators such as the Environment Agency have very strict guidelines over what materials can be injected down shale wells, the remediation of wastewater and well pad operations and disturbance. Far more strict, in fact, than in most US states, where a small minority of the one million plus shale wells drilled to date have indeed led to pollution and disturbance.

A campaigner for the environmental charity said after the ASA rebuke that FoE would "continue to campaign against fracking" because it was "inherently risky for the environment".

Fair enough, but next time, to retain any credibilty, perhaps FoE needs to find evidence of that inherent risk before making serious claims about the negative effects of fracking in the UK.


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