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