War of words erupts over fracking leaflet

Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America
Fracking rigs like this one are a common site in America

A war of words erupted this week over the controversial subject of the facts about fracking.

The row comes just weeks before Lancashire County Council meets to discuss the outcome of applications by Cuadrilla to commence shale gas extraction at two sites in the Fylde.

In one corner retired Lancashire vicar the Rev Michael Roberts and former oil and gas industry engineer Ken Wilkinson claim local anti-fracking group RAFF (Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking) has been forced to withdraw its leaflet “Shale Gas - The Facts” after they complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it contained alleged misleading and misinterpreted information .

But in the other corner the furious campaign group says that it has run out of leaflets, the content was accurate and it intends to update them as more evidence and information about the effect of fracking have become available in the past few months.

Rev Michael Roberts from Garstang and Ken Wilkinson from Manchester claimed the Advertising Standards Authority had provisionally upheld the majority of their complaints and that the group had avoided the risk of public censure.

But RAFF spokesman and treasurer Bob Dennett said: “We have not withdrawn it. I refuse to accept that word… We had already run out and decided not to reprint it before the ASA became involved.”

Rev Roberts, an Oxford geology graduate, and Ken, a former oil and gas industry engineer, say they complained after reading copies of the group’s anti-fracking leaflet which was distributed in Lancashire, including at the Garstang Show. ‘Shale Gas - The Facts’ was also available online at www.stopfyldefracking.org.uk

Rev Roberts has highlighted his complaints on his blog “Peddling and scaling God and Darwin”.

He and Mr Wilkinson argued the leaflet used images and described practices from the United States that “aren’t permitted in the highly regulated UK and presented false and misinterpreted scientific data.”

But Mr Dennett responded: “The only data we have on shale gas production comes from the USA, Australia and Canada because shale gas extraction hasn’t taken place in the UK yet.”

RAFF has vigorously campaigned against Cuadrilla’s proposals to drill and frack in the Fylde area at sites at Roseacre Wood and Little Plumptonand the group has presented its concerns at a series of local meetings.

Lancashire County Councillors will meet later this month to determine the outcome of Cuadrilla’s applications to progress work at the two Lancashire sites.

Rev Roberts said that the ASA advised: “We have now received an assurance from RAFF that the ad will not be repeated or re-distributed. We consider that this will resolve the complaint without referring the matter to the ASA Council.”

Meanwhile the ASA said that the complaint was made on August 19 last year and the issue had been “informally resolved”.

A spokeswoman said: “The ASA was carefully assessing evidence from both sides.They had not come to any conclusion… They (RAFF) withdrew the leaflet before a final decision was made.”

Brief details of the case were due to be posted on the ASA’s website today.

Rev Roberts added: “The people of Lancashire deserve to have access to the facts about shale gas exploration to help them reach an informed decision about it.”

Mr Dennett, who wll be the Green Party candidate in Fylde in this year’s general election added the group’s newsletters would no longer come under the auspices of the ASA because the ASA’s remit has changed.