15 October 2012—The Coal Action Network today accused the coal industry of carrying out dubious market research to give the impression that there is massive support for coal mining.

The research, done for Solid Energy and released by mining industry lobby group Straterra on Friday, included a set of questions carefully worded to produce such a positive result.

“The questions appear to be designed to produce a particularly positive set of answers that would benefit the company’s public image,” said Tim Jones of Coal Action Network Aotearoa.  “And we all know how much Solid Energy’s public image could do with a boost.”

CANA saw the details of the results at a Straterra presentation last Thursday evening.

“I was at the presentation,” said Tim Jones, “and the survey’s own figures don’t back up the spin. According to the research presented, 71% of New Zealanders would only agree with new coal mining if there was no increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Since coal mining is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions, and no viable technology exists to stop those emissions reaching the atmosphere, that means over 70% of New Zealanders want no new or expanded coal mines.”

“Straterra is using this research to spin to the New Zealand public that we are all champing at the bit for Solid Energy to start digging up the world’s dirtiest coal, lignite, from beneath highly productive Southland farmland. The figures don’t back up their story.”

The questions for this year’s poll are available here Solid Energy survey 2012

Question 14 (see notes below: 1) was particularly misleading.

“On the basis of Solid’s questioning, you could make anyone agree to pretty much anything and produce some fantastic statistics to it look like the country’s most popular company,” said Jones.  “But one particular set of statements are patently misleading and have no facts to back them up.”

“Many New Zealanders would agree that swimming with sharks was fine -if  sharks didn’t bite. Unfortunately, sharks do bite, and mining and burning coal does produce greenhouse gas emissions.”

CANA has checked the questions with several experts in market research, all of whom agree that the questions are indeed leading and break some very basic rules of objective market research.

Solid Energy deployed a similar set of questions in its 2009 survey, based on a highly misleading and incorrect statement that made a still-experimental carbon storage technology look like it was already available.  (2)

Yet the technology referred to – Carbon Capture and Storage – has not been commercially deployed, not least because of the huge costs involved. (3)

“While some may not find it surprising that Solid Energy is carrying out this type of polling, we find it duplicitous of the company to use leading questions in market research to fool its shareholders – us —into thinking there is more support for coal than there actually is.”

(1) Question 14 of the research questionnaire

“How much do you agree or disagree with the development of Southland’s lignite?” (on a scale of 1 agree to 5 disagree, 6 don’t know)

… if the environment is protected
… if the environment is returned to as it was before
… if there is no overall increase in Greenhouse emissions
… if local people are employed
… if it is done by New Zealand companies
…if it means lower priced diesel
… if it means lower priced fertilizer
… if the communities where it occurs get special benefits
… if it boosts the NZ economy
…if everyone’s standard of living in New Zealand improves
… if most of the money stays in New Zealand

(2) This section began with a statement:  “Using coal to produce energy can release pollutants into the air. Are you aware that technology can be used to reduce the release of these pollutants to near zero?”   The questions that followed that began with “…given that emissions can be used to reduce the release of these pollutants to near zero…”
That year, Solid Energy’s Annual report stated, on page 2,
“Almost two thirds [of New Zealanders] think we should make greater use of our coal resources… and 84% are more positive if technology is used to reduce pollutant emissions.”

(3) For example, this recent BBC piece on efforts to deploy the technology in the UK