A group of Canadian public health professionals and advocates have filed a C$10-million greenwashing complaint against the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) for a recent ad campaign promoting natural gas as a clean, affordable, sustainable energy option.
“As a doctor in the fracking region of North-East British Columbia that witnesses high rates of unexplained illness in my practice, I feel compelled to inform Canadians about the health risks of gas,” said Dr. Ulrike Meyer, in a release issued by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
In the complaint to Competition Bureau Canada, Meyer and a host of other doctors, nurses, and environmental activists cite scientific literature to back their contention that the carbon emissions from natural gas are comparable to coal, and that gas production pollutes the air and taints water sources.
They ask the bureau to investigate CGA’s “Fuelling Canada” campaign that instead depicts gas as a low-emission, “sustainable energy choice for the future.”
The complainants are asking that the CGA, which represents companies like Enbridge and Fortis, be fined $10 million and forced to retract its statements—should they be judged false and misleading.
The complaint also takes issue with CGA’s position that gas is, and will remain, the most budget-friendly option for Canadian homeowners. Gas is already more expensive than a low-carbon heat pump, writes CAPE, citing a 2022 report from Natural Resources Canada. And due to climate policies, “gas companies will also have to either adopt expensive emissions reduction technologies, such as renewable natural gas, or pay the increasing carbon price.”
The CGA’s messaging does not cover that ground. It describes natural gas as budget-friendly, claiming on Twitter and elsewhere that “households that use natural gas for space and water heating save up to $2,000 a year compared to other heating sources.”
These representations “could convince a family to install a gas-powered energy system because they believe it to be ‘clean’ and ‘affordable’ but be stuck living with a harmful polluter and paying volatile, rising gas prices for the 25-year life of the system,” CAPE says. And “low-income households will be the worst impacted.”
Women, children, the elderly, and racialized, low-income, and Indigenous communities will suffer most from price volatility, said Jacqueline Avanthay Strus, president of the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE). Those groups deserve accurate information so they can make informed choices for themselves and their families, she added.
Accurate information is increasingly being demanded of fossil companies outside Canada, CAPE writes, citing a 2017 ruling by the Dutch Advertising Code Authority that forbade Shell and Exxon from describing natural gas as the “cleanest” fossil fuel. It is incorrect to suggest fossil fuels can be “clean,” the authority concluded.