One of the world’s biggest environmental organisations has been accused of altering documents after regulators raised questions about its campaign against fracking.
Friends of the Earth is accused of deceiving Britain’s Charity Commission after claiming its charitable arm had stopped lobbying against shale gas extraction.
Under British law, charities are restricted from overt political campaigning and are currently facing further restrictions after the government announced they would be banned from using tax payers’ cash to lobby for more regulation.
The group is accused of changing anti-fracking statements made in their name to make it look like they were published by a separate non-charitable company called Friends of the Earth Limited.
The Times reports that the charity avoided the rules restricting campaigning by telling the Charity Commission its anti-fracking work was carried out “solely” by the limited company since June. However, it continued to publish statements against fracking, including a press release in December welcoming the Labour Party’s call for a moratorium on fracking.
The press release said it was “published by Friends of the Earth Trust”, name of the charity, but this was changed a few days later to “Friends of the Earth Limited”. Similar changes were made to other press releases.
The accusations come as a public inquiry opens into applications by shale gas firm Cuadrilla to drill wells in Lancashire. The plans are vigorously opposed by the green lobby.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “We have long been concerned about the myth-peddling and scaremongering by Friends of the Earth on shale gas and fracking. Now we discover that they have misled their own regulator.
“The Charity Commission has to trust trustees to be both honest and competent because it has to regulate 160,000 charities. It follows that when that trust has been breached so severely as with Friends of the Earth the regulator has to step in.”
Friends of the Earth said: “Cuadrilla seem to be trying to silence their opposition. They should stop changing the subject from the real issues at stake and join us in engaging in democratic debate on fracking and climate change. Our campaign against fracking will continue.”
The Charity Commission said: “We have an ongoing engagement with Friends of the Earth Trust, particularly regarding its relationship to the non-charitable company, Friends of the Earth Limited. We cannot comment further whilst this engagement continues.”
Breitbart London reported in October how the group attracted ridicule after claiming sand causes cancer in an anti-fracking leaflet. They said that Cuadrilla “used a significant amount of sand to frack the well at Preese Hall [in Lancashire in 2011]. Frack sand tends to contain significant amounts of silica which is a known carcinogen.”
Professor Paul Young of the University of Glasgow rubbished their concerns, saying: “Sand is silica. It’s exactly the same stuff that’s on every sandy beach in the country.
“What are they proposing? That we treat all beaches as contaminated land and pave them over?
“The debate about fracking should be on the basis of reason, not wild, unsubstantiated allegations that reveal that they don’t have the first clue about mainstream chemistry, let alone environmental toxicology.”