13 Dec 2012

Coal Seam Advertisers Full Of Gas

By Steve Whistler
Loopholes in ad regulation appear to allow the coal seam gas industry to make any claim they choose. Truth - it turns out - is not an advertising standard, writes Steve Whistler
For those engaged in the campaign to stop CSG, the expectation that the facts will eventually win out, is being tested and broken, by the industry, the government and regulatory bodies.

Much has been written recently about CSIRO's rejection of CSG industry body APPEA's ad claiming that groundwater is safe with CSG; and Santos' underhanded ad filming on a coal seam gas opponent's farm. Santos' latest campaign has largely slipped under the radar: it's a series of ads that pose and answer questions about CSG and its effects on health and the environment.

One of the ads poses the following question: "Couldn't CSG threaten our water supplies?". The answer? "CSG is not a threat to this essential commodity."

This claim cannot be substantiated. It ignores toxic spills, the findings of several scientific studies and even advice from the CSG industry itself. In a public meeting in Sydney last year, APPEA spokesperson Ross Dunn admitted, "drilling will, to varying degrees, impact on adjoining aquifers. The extent of impact and whether the impact can be managed is the question". The CSIRO has found that: "groundwater levels will fall as a consequence of coal seam gas extraction. In some places this could see aquifer levels subside by tens of metres for tens of years; in others it is likely to reduce aquifer levels by several metres for several hundred years."

In fact, Santos has played a role in the history of CSG industry mishaps in this country, such as the toxic water leaks in the Pilliga Forest that saw arsenic, lead, chromium and petrochemicals found in water samples.

I was surprised that Santos would make such a blatantly misleading statement in its advertising; in particular given that APPEA had already been admonished for making this very claim just two months earlier. Yet there it was, taking up a half page in the Sydney Morning Herald, on a television commercial and repeated online.

Armed, naïvely, with the expectation that there would be some legal recourse, I turned to the agencies that govern advertising and communications in Australia. They are the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

I contacted the ASB as their Environmental Claims In Advertising And Marketing Code states (pdf) "environmental claims shall not be misleading or deceptive or be likely to mislead or deceive". And I lodged my complaint.

The ASB rejected it.

Not because Santos weren't deceiving the Australian public, but because they deemed the ad to be "political" and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the ASB.

The ASB also told me not to bother with the ACCC or the Office of Fair Trading: "Under normal circumstances, we would refer you to either the ACCC or your relevant State/Territory Consumer Affairs/Office of Fair Trading as these are the organisations which deal with claims of false and misleading advertising. Their jurisdictions, however, are limited to matters involving trade and commerce and also do not extend to political advertising. It is possible the ACMA may be able to assist with your complaint."

So, what about ACMA?

Their charter to regulate radio and television content also extends to the Internet, though for advertising they point the public back to the ASB. Got a sinking feeling yet? It gets worse. ACMA explicitly states it is "not responsible for determining whether an election or political advertisement is misleading or untrue." and they go on to suggest "you can complain to the ACCC and/or state Departments or Offices of Fair Trading if your concern is about truth and accuracy in advertisements." Yes. That's the same ACCC whose rulings do not extend to political ads.

The upshot is that the CSG industry is free to make any claim it chooses.

What about the scientists at CSIRO? Would they be concerned to see their findings ignored again and the public so willfully misinformed?

I contacted Tsuey Cham, listed on the CSIRO website as the Environment Group Communication Advisor. He was the person responsible for the CSIRO's rebuke of APPEA just two months earlier. I made it clear that, after my experience with the three regulatory bodies, there seemed nowhere else to turn. I asked if the CSIRO would be prepared to make a statement.

When Tsuey Cham's response came, his title was not "Environment Group Communication Advisor", but "GISERA Communication Advisor". GISERA is the separate research unit set up by CSIRO in conjunction with — and part funded by — Australia Pacific LNG, holder of the country's largest CSG reserves. GISERA's stated aim is to "ensure our research is informed by and of benefit to the broader community and industry."

I had essentially asked Cham to bite the hand that feeds him. His response: "I understand your concern and frustration... The [APPEA] advertisement was taken off the air after the media statement was issued and therefore CSIRO decided that there was no need for further media statements on this issue". Cham concluded by providing some links to GISERA's research, the bulk of which appear due for completion in mid 2014.

Meanwhile, not only is CSG being rolled out as fast as possible, but when research shows that CSG poses risks to land, water and communities, both the industry and government work to discredit the researchers.

Last month, Southern Cross University (SCU) researchers found huge quantities of methane and carbon dioxide were leaking undetected from Australia's biggest CSG field. Instead of welcoming their findings or prompting further investigation, Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson launched an extraordinary attack on the scientists, telling them to "Conduct yourself in a professional way and focus on the outcome, not short-lived media opportunities."

CSG is being treated as a business opportunity without real consequences. But development poses risks to food, water and air. Indeed, for a growing number CSG has become very personal and deadly serious. The realisation that every institution has failed them — that there is no recourse to the law — is driving those most affected to desperation and, potentially, desperate acts.

Some of those living in the gas field studied by the SCU scientists have provided insight into their world through Facebook. In November this year Dayne Pratzky posted:

"Please spare a though to us who wake wondering how barium, boron, silica and strontium get into your rainwater tank, why the air around my home has propanol, 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene and ethanol in it? This is the reality of living in a gas field. I didn't move into a gas field they moved one on top of me... I fear that one day it will all become all too much."

Brian Monk and his family are among those suffering symptoms consistent with gas exposure, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, rashes and even seizures. In August, he posted:

"I have no expectations of help, no expectation of justice, just want to do something for our little Jace and the littlest, Luke, who may be displaying the start of the same symptoms ...we are finally done for, we know it, just want people everywhere to realise that they intend to drill the earth, if you don't stop them they will."

Several Queensland Australian Medical Association doctors have raised concerns about presentations of similar symptoms from those living near gas fields. This is hardly surprising, given the fugitive emissions findings in the same area from the SCU researchers. But which scientific body is looking at the connection between emissions and health? What results have GISERA got to show for their $14 million in funding?

Both the industry and government have turned their backs on Dayne Pratzky, Brian Monk and others affected. Meanwhile, the industry is allowed to continue deceiving the public via multi-million dollar ad campaigns across print, television and online. That's the kind of democracy being protected by ad regulation.

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benpennings
Posted Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 20:50

They make sure they advertise before any online repeats of tv news about CSG. Seen it a few times really. A TV report about protests, actions, meetings etc with a pro-CSG ad before it.

Generation Alpha are getting active in this area, including just 'attacking' Santos and a gallery they sponsor with a horde of Zombie Farmers. Zombie-A-Frack is to be launched soon internationally - stay tuned to www.facebook.com/GenerationAlpha.

davy1960hill
Posted Friday, December 14, 2012 - 11:35

Great article. I am shocked that these bodies claim the ads to be political. Are they or are they not advertisements made by a corporate entity for the purpose of selling a product? These ads are commercial and these bodies should be taken to task (if not to cour)0 for shirking their responsibilities.

strewthmate
Posted Friday, December 14, 2012 - 21:47

"they deemed the ad to be "political" and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the ASB"

Thanks for a great article but just WHO (the receptionist, the CEO, the Board of 20?) was the genius that determined that these ads were "political" is my concern.

definition of 'political'
Adjective
1) Of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
2) Of or relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.

I mean you HAVE TO BE JOKING, right? This is outrageous and their decision should be pursued further as it smacks of self regulation that is, in reality, total bunkum.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Sunday, December 16, 2012 - 08:27

The coal and gas corporations also get carte blanche from the pro-coal, pro-gas Federal Labor Government.

The pro-gas, anti-environment and utterly mendacious Labor Government not only excludes coal, conventional gas and coal seam gas from the Carbon Tax, it ensures that fugitive emissions of methane from coal and gas extraction are 99% tax free in a continuing Australian Carbon Tax scandal. The following letter has been sent to Australian media and MPs.

LETTER. “Dear etc,

Australians must be made aware of an immense Carbon Tax Scandal whereby the pro-gas Australian Labor Government permits gas-producing corporations to evade Carbon Tax payments of $3-7 billion annually and about $100 billion over the coming decade for fugitive emissions (leakage of natural gas from the ground, wells and pipes).

In short, the Labor Government assumes a gas leakage of 0.12% whereas US estimates range from an average of 3.3% to leakage from fracking of up to 7.9%. Further, the Labor Government assumes a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methane (CH4) that is 21 times greater than for carbon dioxide (CO2) whereas the latest from US NASA GISS scientists is that it is actually 105 times greater on a 20 year time frame and including aerosol impacts.

This means that the Labor Government is under-stating the gas leakage Carbon Tax liability by a factor of 3.3 x 105/(0.12 x 21) = 137 to 7.9 x 105/(0.12 x 21) = 329 and that gas producers are paying less than 1% of their science-based Carbon Tax liability.

This is akin to the Federal Government permitting certain highly profitable major corporations to declare essentially zero taxable income simply on their say-so.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Gideon Polya (contact details).

For detailed analysis see “Pro-gas Australian Labor Government’s $3-7 billion per annum Carbon Tax Scandal”, Bellaciao, 23 November 2012: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article22334 .” END LETTER

Under pro-coal, pro-gas Labor, fossil fuel burning is subsidized by about $12 billion annually (see ACF, "Australia spends $11 billion more encouraging pollution than cleaning it up": http://www.acfonline.org.au/news-media/releases/australia-spends-11-bill... ) and fugitive emissions from the coal and gas industries escape the Carbon Tax to the tune of up to $7 billion annually.

Mendacious Labor pleads fiscal constraints in not properly funding Gonski, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Indigenous health, research funding etc. - yet it hands out gigantic tax relief and subsidies for the greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters.

The World is rapidly running out of time to deal with GHG pollution. Thus according to a 2009 report of the WBGU (that advises the German Government on climate change), in order to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise the world must emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050. However the latest information indicates that the World's GHG pollution is so high that it will exceed 600 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent in 5 years' time (see Gideon Polya, "Doha climate change inaction. Only 5 years left to act", MWC News, 9 December 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/23373-gideonpolya-climate-change.html ) .

Labor has had 2 terms to do something effective about GHG pollution but Australia's Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution has increased enormously under Labor and will further increase enormously under the fraudulent Carbon Tax-ETS (see Section G, "2011 Climate Change Course": https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ).

On the basis of "punish the incompetent and dishonest incumbent" sensible people will vote 1 Green and put Labor last (the Libs are just as bad but , unlike mendacious Labor, have not actually deceived and betrayed decent Labor voters).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

stevewhistler
Posted Sunday, December 16, 2012 - 20:50

Davy1960Hill - That was pretty much word for word my response to the ASB's rejection letter... how is this any different from any profit making entity advertising to sell their product?

Stewthmate - "They" would be those comprising this bureau: "The Advertising Standards Bureau is secretariat for the Advertising Standards Board and the Advertising Claims Board. The Bureau, based in Canberra, works to promote the work of the Boards and the role of the Advertising Standards Bureau in the advertising self regulation system. The Bureau is governed by a Board of Directors." - http://www.adstandards.com.au/aboutus/theadvertisingstandardsbureau ... ultimately it's a "self regulation" system so pretty meaningless :-(