Gas industry peak body referred to regulator for alleged greenwashing

July 21, 2023
Activists block a ship carrying gas from delivering its cargo in Spain in 2022. Photo: Pedro Armestre/Greenpeace

Lock the Gate (LTG) and Comms Declare have asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the oil and gas industry’s peak body, the Australian Petroleum Producers and Exploration Association (APPEA), for allegedly false or misleading advertising over the relative greenhouse gas emissions of coal and gas.

Lock the Gate is a national grassroots organisation of 260 local groups and Comms Declare is a climate advocacy group of more than 360 marketing, PR, advertising and media organisations.

Through the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), they have asked the ACCC to investigate whether APPEA advertisements breach consumer laws, by understating the gas industry’s greenhouse gas emissions and exaggerating the importance of gas to the economy.

The groups allege APPEA’s marketing statements falsely claim that the emissions intensity of gas is 50% that of coal. The EDO said it is not; it is about 60% as polluting as coal and that’s before other lifecycle emissions are counted.

“The ‘future of gas’ campaign promotes fossil gas as essential to the transition to a net zero economy without providing information about the role of renewable energy in the transition,” the EDO said.

LTG and Comms Declare said the APPEA campaign attempts to “allay community concerns” relating to greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and end-use of fossil gas. They are also concerned with its promotion of current and future gas consumption.

APPEA claims that gas is replacing coal’s share of electricity generation. It is not. Renewable energy is largely replacing coal-fired electricity, the EDA said.

APPEA claims that gas generates 20% of electricity used in Australia. Less than 6% of the National Electricity Market’s energy was generated by gas in the past financial year.

APPEA claims it is taking action consistent with achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It is not. Instead, it is promoting the development of new gas projects, which is inconsistent with net zero by 2050.

APPEA makes other claims also alleged to be false including that: gas represented 27% of household energy consumption in 2020-2021 and that the production of blue hydrogen releases low levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The July 17 letter of complaint stated the claims were part of an APPEA campaign “to market fossil gas as a ‘clean’ energy source that is essential for the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and to sustain the ‘Australian way of life’.”

The ACCC complaint follows a June 28 ruling by Ad Standards Australia that APPEA television ads breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ (AANA) environmental codes. (APPEA disputed the findings but undertook to modify or remove the ads in question.)

It is only the fourth complaint ever upheld by AANA on environmental grounds since 2011.

Lock the Gate spokesperson Nic Clyde said: “We’re at a ‘fork in the road’ moment, where we need to back renewable energy to do the things gas used to. New South Wales is being urged to largely phase out gas by 2035. The Victorian and ACT governments already have well-developed plans to get off gas.”

Clyde criticised APPEA for continuing to push fossil gas. “The only thing we can trust the gas industry to do is promote its own interests.”

Comms Declare spokesperson Belinda Noble said greenwashing by coal, oil and gas companies needs to end. “Gas is mainly methane, which heats the atmosphere 84 times more than carbon dioxide over 20 years.

“Advertising gas as being somehow ‘clean’ or ‘green’ is not only inaccurate — it is also immoral when global warming is causing record temperatures, death, and destruction around the globe.”

Comms Declare has released an “honest ad” from APPEA to highlight the tactics and motivations behind its dishonest campaign.

EDO Managing Lawyer Kirsty Ruddock said greenwashing is dangerous because “it delays action” and “undermines competition and consumer trust in green or renewable products”.

“APPEA’s statements are designed to make the public think gas is good for the environment when, in fact, it is driving dangerous climate change. It is in the public interest to ensure big polluters and their peak bodies are held to account, she said.

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