July 6, 2011
Shell fracking advert “unsubstantiated” and “misleading”
Wednesday, o6 July 2011, Cape Town — Shell South Africa has been ordered to withdraw “unsubstantiated” and “misleading” claims it made in full page advertisements in newspapers about its use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas exploration in the Karoo.
The ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was welcomed by Jonathan Deal, chairman of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), who laid the complaint.
“We welcome the ASA’s ruling,” said Deal. “It is critical that with an issue so important to South Africa as fracking that the public is not misled, as Shell clearly intended in its advertising. We do not know enough about the long-term or even the short-term damage fracking could inflict on the environment. We should not be misled by the emotional calls and manufactured facts of such adverts.”
The ASA ruled that several aspects of the advertisement, which appeared in at least two newspapers in April 2011, were “unsubstantiated and misleading” and needed to be withdrawn.
First is Shell’s claim that the “marriage of technologies [hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling] led to dramatic increases in the availability of natural gas from deep shale formations, as well as increased awareness of the benefits of shale gas”. The ASA ruled that the claim “is not adequately substantiated and is in contravention” of the Code of Advertising Practice, which requires “unequivocal, independent verification” of such claims.
Second, Shell’s advert stated: “Today, Hydraulic fracturing is used at nearly nine out of 10 natural gas wells.” The ASA ruled that this was clearly not the case and was therefore “misleading” and should be withdrawn.
Third, Shell’s advert claimed that: “There has never been a single documented case of groundwater contamination resulting from fracturing, according to a host of independent environmental regulators.” The ASA was particularly scathing in its rejection of this statement, stating that the respondent — Shell — should have examined ALL (ASA’s emphasis) literature from environmental experts and proved that in ALL (ASA’s emphasis) the literature “not a single case is made that groundwater contamination was caused by hydraulic fracturing”. Clearly, stated the ASA, this had not been done, and it was therefore unsubstantiated and must be withdrawn.
The fourth and final claim in the Shell advert stated that “… fracturing has been responsibly used tens of thousands of times for decades [in Colorado and Oklahoma] to enhance oil and natural gas development”. The ASA upheld TKAG’s claim that this was “unsubstantiated” and ordered Shell to withdraw the statement.
Deal said a lot more needs to be done before the government gives the go-ahead for fracking. “A strategic environmental assessment is required in our opinion to appropriately consider all of the costs and potential benefits before a decision can be made on fracking; and certainly before government issues any exploration licenses.”
“We look forward to seeing whether Shell will comply with the very specific rulings made by the ASA,” said Deal.