Kinder Morgan’s misinformation campaign

Misleading ads, push polls, and astro-turfing all part of effort

IF YOU WATCH TELEVISION — in any of several New England markets — you’ve probably noticed the ads trying to link support for renewable energy with support for new gas pipelines.

Featuring bona fide New Englanders smiling in the wind and sunshine, these ads are from the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs, a group partially funded by Kinder Morgan and orchestrated by Tony Buxton, lobbyist and lawyer for Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company. The ad perpetuates the notion that renewables need to be complemented by natural gas, even though grid-scale energy storage – already being implemented in California, Maine, and elsewhere – can address the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy without expanding gas infrastructure.

This ad also features a vague graph coupled with incongruous verbal statements, resulting in a misleading impression about greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the carbon dioxide released by burning gas is about two-thirds of that released from oil combustion, not half, as depicted in the graph. This still does not give a full picture, because the methane released in natural gas production, transportation, and distribution is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Pipeline proponents are clearly banking on the time-tested PR tactic that if you repeat anything often enough, people will come to believe it.

Less visible, so far, is the push poll being conducted for Kinder Morgan along the proposed route. Residents in at least three Massachusetts counties have been subjected to a short phone survey designed to guide them towards a statement of support for the Northeast Energy Direct (“NED”) pipeline. One wonders who would believe any survey that comes out showing significant pipeline support in these towns – communities that have almost universally voted resounding opposition to the NED pipeline at town meeting. Watch for those poll results to be unveiled sometime soon.

TV ads and push polls are to be expected from a massive PR machine, but in some ways more galling is the pipeline company’s “astro-turfing” to counter the grassroots movement. At scoping meetings, Kinder Morgan’s union allies began swapping out their trademark orange t-shirts, instead sporting neon yellow, apparently to mimic the “StopNED” stop-the-pipeline t-shirts that originated in north-central Massachusetts. Coincidence? Perhaps. Recently, however, “Build the Pipeline” yard signs have started popping up with a design similar to the familiar black-white-and-red “Stop the Pipeline” signs that can be seen across the region. The new signs advertise a new Tennessee Gas Pipeline website designed solely to promote the NED pipeline.

One surmises that this is yet another attempt to confuse the public and neutralize the opposition. Similarly, Kinder Morgan’s vice president of public affairs, Allen Fore, has asserted that the idea that gas would be exported from the pipeline is “pure speculation” by pipeline opponents – even though the company’s own FERC filing mentions LNG export projects in Atlantic Canada as potential customers of the pipeline. Company officials also like to say that, as a transportation company and “common carrier,” they can’t control who their customers are as long as they are credit-worthy, and there aren’t credit-worthy exporters lined up as customers. (Yet.)

The flood of new PR tactics being unleashed gives the impression that Kinder Morgan is desperate for public support. The PR efforts of a $100 billion company are certainly not something that will be countered dollar for dollar by frugal or cash-strapped municipalities, citizen groups, and nonprofits. Thankfully, the hearts and minds of stubborn Yankees cannot be purchased with Kinder Morgan’s bottomless PR fund. When faced with fear-mongering industry claims that without the pipeline we will be left “freezing in the dark” or face “economic devastation,” our neighbors say, “I don’t believe in your ‘energy crisis’ – we need market reforms and grid modernization, not this mammoth pipeline you’re hawking.”

Who should be believed – those who are throwing millions of dollars at selling the project, or those who have put their lives on hold and spent the better part of two years fighting to save their way of life, protect cherished places, and move us towards a sustainable energy system?

Meet the Author
Earlier this year, when discussing the intensity of opposition to another Kinder Morgan pipeline project, the company’s chairman, Richard Kinder, said: “Sometimes I think people think we’re manufacturing cigarettes.” Funny story: Allen Fore, lead PR man for Kinder Morgan, once served as the vice president of public affairs for the Heartland Institute. Now known as a climate change denial “think tank,” that group spent many years denying the health effects of cigarette smoke. We know – you don’t manufacture cigarettes or anything else, Kinder Morgan, you’re just a transportation company with a bridge you’d like to sell us.

Kathryn R. Eiseman is president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast Inc. She lives in Cummington.