Advertisements touting the environmental benefits of the fossil fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG), paid for by Canada Action, are inaccurate, misleading, and distort the true meaning of statements by scientists, according to a unanimous interim ruling by Ad Standards. The ruling was anonymously shared with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) in May 2024 in light of its campaign to ban fossil fuel advertising.

Greenwashing by Canada Action's claims on LNG

The Canada Action ads’ claim that “B.C. LNG will reduce global emissions” is found to have “distorted the true meaning of statements made by professionals or scientific authorities,” “promised a verified result without competent and reliable evidence” and created an “overall misleading impression… that B.C. LNG is good for the environment, amounting to greenwashing,” according to the self-regulatory body tasked with administering the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards to ensure ads are truthful and accurate.

Canada Action’s multi-channel, pro-oil and gas advertisements appear on a distinctive green background, which the ruling said was “used to emphasize an environmental benefit that liquefied natural gas does not truly have.” The federally-registered non-profit organization claims to be a non-partisan, grassroots effort to encourage support for the Canadian oil and gas industry. It has spent more than $5 million on advertising between 2017-2022, according to public filings. It has not publicly disclosed its funding sources, which include over $7 million in corporate sponsorships, but investigative reporting uncovered payments from the oil and gas industry, including $100,000 from ARC Resources.

Ad Standards council ruling

The Ad Standards council reached its decision on January 30, 2024, but only notified the advertiser and complainants on May 7, 2024. The ads have continued to run, notably in prominent locations in large urban centres in Ontario and B.C., including on billboards, radio, public transit and in major newspapers, including a full-page, front-cover advertisement in the Times Colonist newspaper on May 4. (Ontario ads state “Canadian LNG will reduce global emissions.”) In contrast to other self-regulatory advertising bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K and the National Advertising Division in the United States, Ad Standards Canada´s decisions are confidential and are not made public.

Reaction by CAPE

According to Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and the president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “These ads are textbook cases of greenwashing, right down to the colour of the ads. We felt compelled to make this decision public because people in Canada have the right to not be misled about LNG’s harmful impacts on the climate, the environment and our health.”

Health effects of LNG and fossil ads

CAPE has raised the alarm for many years over the significant harms to human health, ecosystem health and climate change caused by natural gas extraction and burning, especially in B.C. This includes emerging research linking fracking with adverse birth outcomes (preterm birth, birth defects, low birthweight), childhood leukemia, respiratory and cardiovascular issues, and premature mortality.

Led by CAPE, health organizations in Canada have been advocating since 2022 for a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel advertising to protect public health, due to concerns that disinformation campaigns from the oil and gas industry obstruct climate action and allow continued harms to health and the environment, similar to the way tobacco deceived the public for years about the harms of its product.

Follow up: letter to correct misleading ads

Consequently, CAPE has sent a letter to companies where the ads are known to have run, including TransLink, BC Transit, the Times Colonist, out-of-home advertisers Branded Cities, Pattison and Lamar, amongst others, requesting that the “B.C./Canadian LNG will reduce global emissions” and other similarly misleading Canada Action campaign ads be taken down, for correction ads to be placed, and for a comprehensive system to screen green claims to be put in place going forward.

The ads have caused controversy with a petition to Translink and BC Transit garnering thousands of signatures. In February, the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs called on the federal and B.C. governments to address misleading LNG advertising campaigns, which they warned “threaten climate change efforts and informed decision-making.”

Additional quotes on this press release can be found here.