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NPR Reports on Natural Gas Blowout One Second, Promotes Natural Gas the Next

July 24, 2013

This photo released by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement shows natural gas spewing from the Hercules 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

OK, we’ve got NPR’s phone number and we offer it to you because we’ve had it. It’s time for NPR to ditch the ANGA ads.

NPR’s Ombudsperson is Edward Schumacher-Matos at 202-513-2000. NPR’s Corporate Sponsorship person is John King at 202-513-2093.

For approximately eons, NPR has been running ads for ANGA, the American Natural Gas Association. The ads are deceptive, constantly using the term “clean,” for example, which is about as apt an adjective for fracked gas as “sweet” would be as an adjective to describe the stink of skunk.

Today at 2:05 pm, NPR reported on the collapse of the still-burning rig which caught fire late last night after yesterday’s blowout.  The report aired on the WHYY affiliate station in the Philadelphia area. Rather than emphasizing another out-of-control ecological catastrophe, the news report emphasized cheerfully the lack of deaths (44 workers had been evacuated just hours earlier) and the lack of a huge oil sheen on the ocean (wrong: there was a half-mile sheen).

The report left out the “major cloud of gas” that surrounded the rig post-blowout, and didn’t mention methane at all. Just because methane isn’t oil doesn’t mean it isn’t wreaking havoc on climate as it spews from the well.

As a greenhouse gas, methane is CO2 on steroids. Methane is 105 times more potent in global warming impact than CO2, in the 20-year time frame, according to NASA scientist Drew Shindell; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to endorse that figure when next it meets. Yet the NPR reporter didn’t even ask the question: how much methane is being released to the atmosphere, in addition to how much is being burned off in the fire? This is a serious question at a time when our oceans are absorbing 90% of the heat of global warming; ocean temperatures are continuing to rise, with severe consequences.

Immediately after that “soft on natural gas disasters” report, the ANGA ad aired.  This particular ad raves about how wonderful natural gas-powered buses are, claiming they reduced Los Angeles smog.  The ad urges listeners to go to an industry website.

     We object on three grounds:

1. The ads are deceptive and should be dropped. The implication is that natural gas is good for air, but in fact in Wyoming, fracking created smog worse than Los Angeles’ worst smoggy hot summer day. Fracking is bad for air, and it’s worse for climate than coal or oil in the crucial the 20-year time frame.

2. The ads are being aired specifically at a controversial time when the exact content of the ad — natural gas-powered vehicles — is being hotly debated in Philadelphia, the region where the ads are being aired. Right now the industry wants Philadelphia’s public utility, PGW, to pay half a million bucks for natural gas-powered (CNG) vehicles.

Although the gas commission gave it a thumbs-up, this highly controversial proposal is bad for the economy in a poor city and bad for the ecosystems of a fracked state. We think City Council should, and will, vote against the proposal, and that’s why ANGA is gearing up this ad at this time in an attempt to make natural gas sound “clean” by sheer repetition.

Philadelphia has protected its drinking water from harm with a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin; why should Philadelphia accept, and use, fracked gas that’s harming our neighbors’ health in the rest of the state? It’s taken EPA three years to fine XTO $100,000 and demand that they improve their fracking wastewater plan to the tune of $20 million — reacting to severe leaks at their Lycoming County operations — a fact which underlines just how flat-footed both PA DEP and EPA continues to be when it comes to protecting our water, let alone air, climate, forests, or health.

Given this particular controversy, it appears that NPR is allowing ANGA to undermine its “objective” reporting by airing ads that weigh in on the pro-natural-gas-vehicle side of the debate, while the reporting downplays natural gas dangers and negative impacts. The people with nosebleeds and blistered throats caused by shale gas drilling can’t, of course, afford to air their own ads. They’re too busy trying to get medical care or trying to figure out what state they can move to (Vermont seems popular) to make sure their air and water is frack-free in the future, even if it means giving up beloved Pennsylvania homes.

3. The ad placement right after the reporting on the Louisiana natural gas blowout was terrible — downright surreal — and someone should have headed that off. Given the “soft” reporting on the Louisiana disaster, it sounds like the firewall between ad policy and news reporting has been breached. The natural gas blowout was reported almost as if it was good news (no deaths, no visible oil) instead of being framed as the ongoing, out-of-control, avoidable and shameful ecological disaster it really is.

Pick up your phone and call NPR. Tell them:

1. Drop those deceptive ANGA ads.  

2. Tell them to stop allowing ANGA to campaign for approval of natural gas vehicle purchase programs at the very same time that we count on NPR station affiliates like WHYY and the Pennsylvania StateImpact blog to accurately report on the real costs and benefits of proposed natgas vehicle programs — especially for a struggling city in a fracked state.

3. Tell them you think ANGA ads undermine the content and seriousness of NPR reporting. The “firewall” between advertising and journalism appears to have been breached because NPR nationally significantly and seriously under-reports on water contamination, air pollution, health impacts, climate impacts and quality of life impacts due to shale gas development. Unconventional gas drilling is poisoning our climate every day while contaminating air and water too, with severe health impacts depending on where in the roulette game you happen to live.  And we all do live downstream.

NPR’s Corporate Sponsorship person is John King at 202-513-2093.

NPR’s Ombudsperson may be reached at 202-513-2000. That’s the main number; ask for ombudsperson and they will connect you (yes, even the automated system will connect you if you say “ombudsperson” — it works; don’t give up).

Online: contact the Ombudsperson here.

The Ombudsperson’s office is especially interested in public perceptions that the firewall between ad policy and news reporting has been breached. The Corporate Sponsorship office, I was told, is responsible for decisions regarding where NPR gets its funding.

Please update this article with further information by commenting. And don’t waste any time: if you live in Philadelphia, call  your Philadelphia City Councilperson to urge them to vote NO on half a million bucks for natural gas vehicles. It makes no economic sense, and it’s making our neighbors sick. What’s to like?

  1. permalink
    July 24, 2013 10:01 pm

    Please, if you can get this upset about NPR running ANGA ads, why aren’t you running blogs

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      July 25, 2013 12:01 pm

      Readers, this comment was accidentally/ mysteriously truncated (not by us) but the writer, Pat Libby, emailed me to say that she supports 100% the campaign to get NPR to drop the ANGA ads. She also wants Channel 10 to stop their pro-fracking ads and would like others to contact Channel 10 because those ads are also deceptive.

  2. Helen Bush permalink
    July 24, 2013 10:27 pm

    Is this an offshore frackwell?

  3. July 25, 2013 8:00 am

    Thank you, Iris, for putting this in proper perspective, and telling it like it is.

    As one living in the shale fields of PA, I have to say you are exactly correct about NPR. They have done a dis-service to the people who live in the affected areas like myself. I have been interviewed by NPR’s Susan Philips and felt that she not only took things that were said by myself, and others out of correct context, but countered everything that was said with misleading industry “talking points” making it seem at best like the economic industry ‘pros’ outweigh the social, environmental, and public health ‘cons’. I have contacted NPR in the past regarding this inconsistent reporting and mixed messaging, and have gotten no response, or explanation. NPR now stands for Not the Peoples Radio. They have become just another corporate controlled gas industry shill in sheep’s clothing.

  4. Sharon permalink
    July 25, 2013 12:50 pm

    I was able to leave a lengthy comment for John King, however 3245 was invalid for Schumacher.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      July 25, 2013 4:43 pm

      Yes! So sorry, we have now corrected and updated that: just use the extension 2000 for Schumacher-Matos, the ombudsperson. NPR will not give a direct extension for the ombudsperson’s office for some reason, so you have to call 202 513 2000 and ask for the ombudsperson; you will be transferred there and can speak your piece. If you go back and look at the blog post, we also now include the online link to provide written comments to the ombudsperson. Thanks, Sharon, Sandra, Alice, Pat, John, Mr. Jonik, and others who have let us know they are calling in and strongly support this campaign. Sorry for the initial error; now that it is corrected you can share this post freely and widely.

  5. July 25, 2013 4:35 pm

    Too often I have heard ads on NPR concerning gas as a clean energy source and I cringe.
    Iris is correct. There is so much bad reporting, I hate to see NPR beholden to corporations.

  6. Alice permalink
    July 25, 2013 10:37 pm

    I just called NPR and left a message, which clearly illustrated my anger. I’ve been wanting a grassroots org to initiate this campaign for years. Thank you for being the one to do it! Now that the ombudsperson phone number is corrected, I think we need to keep pushing it out. It’s got to be big. I can’t tell you how many smart people from NYC (and I’m sure elsewhere, but I know NYC), who get most of their news from NPR, erroneously think gas is clean and creates jobs. People don’t remember whether they’ve heard something from an ad or news. Plus, of course, the NPR news is pro-gas anyway. Sometimes I feel I’m hearing someone read from an industry PR journal.

    Why doesn’t NPR cover more renewable energy? For instance, I don’t remember hearing any report about the Mark Jacobson peer-review studies that show how our country could be 100% renewable in just a couple of decades.

    I even know a quite a number of people who have already pulled their NPR memberships because of their anger over the ANGA ads. NPR, please don’t force more of us to follow suit.

  7. July 27, 2013 10:10 pm

    I posted a comment on-line, in support of Iris’ arguments–easy to do, using the link in her story. And I agree with Alice that NPR should cover renewables much more.

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