The influence of the head of the UK’s shale gas task force has been questioned after the advertising watchdog panel he chairs banned an anti-fracking advert.
Former Labour Minister Lord Chris Smith is chair of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the body that sits in judgment on whether ads have breached advertising rules despite being employed as head of the Task Force on Shale Gas, a lobby group funded by fracking firms including Cuadrilla, Centrica and Total.
Now Greenpeace UK has dismissed as “baseless, biased, and bonkers” an ASA decision today to ban an anti-fracking advert on the basis that Prime Minister David Cameron would disagree with it.
Ruling on a complaint by pro-fracking peer Lord Lipsey, the ASA has told Greenpeace UK to withdraw a newspaper ad stating: “Experts agree – [fracking] won’t cut our energy bills”.
To back up its statement Greenpeace UK submitted to the ASA opinions from 22 energy experts including the Energy Secretary, leading academics, and even three separate spokespersons from fracking firm Cuadrilla.
However, the advertising watchdog ruled the claim was misleading in suggesting there is a consensus among pundits – but was only able to quote the Prime Minister’s opinion as evidence.
Challenged by Greenpeace to provide any evidence, besides Cameron’s views, to justify its ruling, the ASA refused to do it, claiming the onus of proving or disproving the statement is on Greenpeace.
The complainant, Lord Lipsey, is not only a former member of the ASA council but also sits on the House of Lords economic affairs committee, which published a report last year calling for fracking to be made a national priority.
Commenting on the ruling, Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Louise Hutchins said: “An authority led by a fracking advocate has ruled in favour of a pro-fracking Lord merely on the basis of the opinion of an avowedly pro-fracking Prime Minister.
“This decision is baseless, biased, and frankly bonkers. We quoted 22 different expert opinions to back up our statement that fracking won’t bring down bills. The ASA could only find shale enthusiast David Cameron to defend the opposite view.
“This ruling also sets a very dangerous precedent. The same perverse logic could be used to ban statements about evolution or climate change on the basis that someone somewhere disagrees with the mainstream view.
“We can’t allow the ASA to be used as a kangaroo court to muzzle dissenting voices on controversial issues like fracking.”
In its ruling banning the advert, the ASA stated: “We told Greenpeace to ensure they did not use claims that misleadingly implied their views were universally accepted if a significant division of informed opinion existed.”
A line-up of energy experts have dismissed the idea that fracking in the UK will bring down energy prices. The two main arguments are that extraction costs in the UK are likely to be much higher than in the US, meaning that the industry requires higher gas prices to be able to make a profit.
And unlike the US, the UK is part of a wider European market which means that shale gas, like North Sea gas, will be sold to the highest bidder – something even former Cuadrilla chair Lord Brown was forced to acknowledge.