Like most forms of energy, natural gas has a pretty long list of pros and cons — it’s a better choice than some, but a worse one than others. No matter how you slice it, though, there are proven concerns about natural gas’ contribution to climate change as well as considerable evidence that natural gas fumes can adversely affect kids’ health.
There’s also no arguing that natural gas is a big business — and it seems like Big Gas will do what it can to cultivate positive public opinion and keep money flowing in... even if it means taking a page from tobacco companies and sending its biased messages directly to impressionable kids.
Across the country, parents and schools are reporting that gas companies are sending pro-gas coloring books and activity books home with kids, which emphasize all the good and minimize the bad.
In Oregon, utility NW Natural sent activity books to school across the state in May, in both English and Spanish. Kids as young as five received packets, which for younger kids showed a friendly mouse called “Nat” and a cat called “Gus” learning all about the advantages of natural gas. While safety and energy conservation are sometimes mentioned, the activities mostly center upon the vital importance of natural gas as well as why it’s better than “dirtier” forms of energy like diesel. Cleaner forms of energy, like electricity or solar, are conspicuously absent, of course.
“I find it dangerous to be honest. I find it dangerous because it is attempting to influence the next generation in how they are thinking about fossil gas as a service,” Jaimini Parekh, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, told DeSmog at the time. “Why is it that a utility company feels so threatened that they need to try to influence the minds of children in how they are thinking about the impacts of gas?”
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, children were taught lessons about natural gas by “Petro Pete” and his dog “Repete,” courtesy of Oklahoma Oil & Natural Gas. Pete and his dog have interesting things to say, such as, “the humans learned their lesson and now they don’t leave behind a mess when they drill for oil,” according to Bloomberg.
And last year, Puget Sound Energy encouraged kids to color a picture of “Natural Gas Town” — although after they tweeted it, they quickly took it down amid criticism.
Finally, in Massachusetts, kids at several schools were given activity books so that they could learn about their “invisible friend:” natural gas, naturally.
At least one dad was not pleased with what he found in his kid’s backpack.
“Beyond angry,” he wrote on Twitter. “My son brought these propaganda books from his Tobin elementary school in Cambridge. Courtesy of @EversourceMA gas. Not a single mention of the climate crisis. Despicable.”
Why is this happening?
“Industry groups recognized the value of classrooms for marketing and propaganda decades ago,” Carroll Muffett, president and chief executive of the Center for International Environmental Law, told Bloomberg. “It’s where you shape someone's understanding of your product and of your company and of your issues. In a school context, you're shaping their understanding of the world.”
And many times, the books get past school administrations because they contain some information about safety, like what kids should do if they smell a strange odor in their house. But safety is obviously not the main goal.
“There’s no way that the primary purpose of this is to inform kids about the potential that they could dig into the sidewalk and damage a pipeline. That is not what these booklets are,” Parekh continued to explain to DeSmog. “Not in any type of way. Like Little Billy and his baseball bat that was made by the gas company... that is not about safety of the distribution system.”
In fact, natural gas can be harmful to young kids, especially kids with lung issues like asthma. Specifically, multiple studies have found that homes using natural gas stoves to cook produce dangerous levels of air pollutants that can seriously affect young children.
Another not-so-great aspect of these activity books? People who use natural gas in their homes are paying for these campaigns every time they pay a bill. Of course, that seems like small potatoes compared research that shows natural gas might be hurting our earth and our kids.
Currently, there are no federal regulations stopping gas companies (or other types of companies) from distributing information to schools, or from schools distributing it to kids.
Scary Mommy reached out to three of the above gas companies for comment but has not received a response.