Shell and Exxon are facing a censure from the Dutch advertising watchdog over their claim that natural gas is “the cleanest of all fossil fuels” in an ad earlier this year. Earlier this summer, the country’s advertising standards board reprimanded Statoil for a claim that gas is “clean energy” and a “low emissions fuel.”

Online versions of the latest ads were changed weeks ago to refer to gas as “the least polluting fossil fuel,” in an effort to pre-empt the censure. As a result, the watchdog declined to take punitive action against the NAM company, partially owned by Shell and Exxon.

The complaint was co-filed by Friends of the Earth Europe and Milieudefensie. Paul de Clerk, with Friends of the Earth Europe, said:

“This clear ruling by the advertisement standards board is of great importance. Time after time we see how oil and gas companies are misleading citizens and politicians. They want us to believe that gas is clean and they support the transition to renewable energy. Behind the screens we see how the same companies lobby against this transition. To prevent catastrophic climate change we need to end the dependency on all fossil fuels – including gas.”

The issue of the status of natural gas has been a focus for controversy recently. The G20 meeting in July was split over an effort by the Trump administration for gas to be classified as a “clean technology.” The American administration distanced itself from the final G20 statement, commenting that it would help other nations “access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”

Some policy-makers view natural gas as a “bridging fuel” to move from other fossil fuels to renewables. The research wing of the EU has classified gas as a low carbon energy source, providing more than £100m in research grants on the basis of that classification.

Carbon emissions from natural gas amount to about half the amount from burning coal, but is still much higher than emissions from renewables.

However, if methane emissions are considered, it paints a darker picture for natural gas. Though short lived, methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas.  One recent study found that gas plants emit levels of methane up to 120 times higher than they were reporting regulators in the US.

The Dutch ruling says “the absolute term ‘cleanest fossil fuel’ is not in line with the MRC [Dutch advertising code].”

“It is suggested that fossil fuels can be clean in that they do not cause environmental damage. It is firm – and recognized by NAM – that that suggestion is not correct.”

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