'Phony' Claims In Coal Seam Gas Ads


Activist group Lock The Gate has lodged a formal complaint against the advertising campaign "We want CSG" for making false environmental claims about coal seam gas mining.

As well as touting the economic benefits of coal seam gas, the ads claim CSG is cleaner than other energy sources and that fracking, in which rocks are cracked to release gas, has been found to be a safe technology.

The Alliance has urged the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), the body that judges consumer complaints against Australian advertisements, to discontinue or order the modification of the television advertisements authorised by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).

The campaign is being conducted on TV, radio, print and social media in Australia for an initial period of four to five weeks. According to a media release issued by APPEA, it is funded by some of Australia’s biggest energy companies including AGL, Santos, Arrow Energy and Origin Energy, and by major foreign investors such as ConocoPhillips.

"This multi-million dollar advertising campaign is a slap in the face to rural communities who are living in fear of the impacts on their farms, their health and their water resources … we are not prepared to tolerate it", said Drew Hutton, president of Lock The Gate Alliance.

"The TV advertisements are based on a whole lot of misleading concepts such as: CSG has a minimal impact on farm land, can be conducted harmoniously with agriculture and is a clean green energy source."

Rick Wilkinson, Chief Operating Officer of APPEA, which represents the main players in the Australian gas industry, says the campaign is based on facts to help the community judge the sustainability of the industry.

"The purpose was to bring balance back to the discussion, we thought there was plenty of information with regards to the risks but we also wanted to highlight the benefits of CSG," he said.

"The key environmental initiatives are that it supports lower carbon future, is up to 70 per cent cleaner than coal and is used to generate electricity, and as for benefits to regional employment, we already have more than 8500 people working in CSG."

Wilkinson expressed no concern about the complaints being generated by environmental activist groups, including Lock The Gate’s formal submission to the ASB. "I think most of those claims have been dismissed, there’s no validity to them. There have been no material complaints that I’m aware of", he said.

The feedback about the APPEA’s campaign has been positive, says Wilkinson. "From talking to people in the regional community, they agree that the other side of the story is being told through the campaign and that it’s a fair representation of a sizeable part of the community", he told New Matilda.

Lock The Gate has argued that the campaign’s claims made about the benefits of CSG are "phony" and in breach of the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ (AANA) Environmental Claims Advertising and Marketing Code. This code was established two years ago to ensure that "green claims" made about products are truthful and accurate.

"We’ve highlighted many issues in our complaint — from the fact that CSG has a much bigger carbon footprint then they would like to have us believe to the appalling imbalance in rights between land holders and mining companies", Hutton told New Matilda.

He said there was also scepticism about the nameless local residents and small business owners who are briefly featured in the 30-second TV ads.

"It raises the question about what incentives or rewards these people were given to do the ad. You need to be prepared to put your name up there if you’re going to make these assertions so people can be identified and contacted about it", he said.

Lock The Gate are collaborating with GetUp! in their own campaign "Don’t Risk CSG" to counteract the APPEA’s campaign. Their ads featured alarming real-life stories about the effect of CSG mining in regional Australia. The participants revealed their names in this campaign.

While Rick Wilkinson would not disclose how much the "We Want CSG" campaign cost, he said the brevity and anonymity of these ads boiled down to a matter of available funds. "The GetUp! advertisement has a longer running time and a narrow audience … when you run longer campaigns you obviously have more money available", he said.

Hutton, who was on set when the "Don’t Risk CSG" campaign was filmed, dismissed this, saying that the GetUp! advertisement was very low budget.

Lock The Gate is confident that APPEA’s cammpaign will not shift the public’s stance on CSG.

"The community is locked in a David and Goliath battle against a cashed up industry that thinks it can change public sentiment by spreading phony claims," said Hutton. He added that the Alliance will be looking to pursue further avenues against APPEA to ensure the Australian public is not misled.

"We don’t want to see the community hoodwinked by phony claims … We’re going to hold this industry accountable no matter what it takes."

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.