Kids love their mac n cheese with a side of increased risk of asthma.
Kids love their mac n cheese with a side of increased risk of asthma. Rosmarie Wirz/Getty Images

Natural gas companies are sweating the clean future. So, they’re upping their public relations game.

This week Puget Sound Energy (PSE) tweeted a coloring activity for kids, urging them to explore “Natural Gas Town":

Kids love natural gas!
Kids love natural gas! PSE tweet screenshot

The tweet was taken down. PSE explained to me that “while the intent was to promote safety, we realized that it lacked context."

Across the country, there are stealthy natural gas-funded ad campaigns cropping up. Have you noticed any Instagram influencers talking about the wonders of the gas stove? Yeah, that’s being funded by natural gas companies. Despite the fact that recent reports show children who live in a home with a gas stove “have a 42 percent greater risk of developing asthma symptoms, and 24 percent risk of lifelong asthma,” Mother Jones reports.

Was that the context missing from PSE’s “Explore Natural Gas Town” kids activity?

"Natural" gas is a fossil fuel. It leaks methane, the most potent of greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere through the fracking process. And, it’s horrible for air quality. The Guardian reported that gas stoves are “contributing pollution that makes indoor air up to two to five times dirtier than outdoor air.”

"The science is clear," Jesse Piedfort the director of the Washington State Sierra Club chapter told me. "We can't avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis without moving away from gas. Expanding gas is tantamount to climate denial, and it locks us into a future where our very survival is threatened."

Cities and states are reckoning with natural gas as many move toward adopting Green New Deal legislation. Washington committed to getting utilities on self-generating 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Mayor Jenny Durkan has committed to formulating a plan to get all city-owned buildings on clean electricity by 2021. This isn’t ideal for companies like Puget Sound Energy, which relies on natural gas and coal for around 60 percent of its energy mix.

PSE defends a “balanced” approach to energy and that includes natural gas. They’ve funneled millions of dollars into lobbying efforts and campaigns against progressive candidates at the state and local level in Washington. Their most recent effort last year failed spectacularly.

So, they’re pivoting. PSE and other Northwest natural gas companies, including some Canadian gas and pipeline companies, are spending $1 million on a glossy public relations campaign called “Partnership for Energy Progress.” The campaign's goal "is to promote natural and 'prevent or defeat' any initiatives that would reduce or prohibit its use," Desmog Blog reports.

Here’s the word-for-word statement PEP’s press person supplied me with when I asked about the campaign:

"The Partnership for Energy Progress is a collaboration of utilities, farmers, workers, small and large businesses and community advocates across the Northwest," said Leanne Guier, member of UA Local 32 Plumbers & Pipefitters and President of Partnership for Energy Progress. "This broad coalition is sharing stories and information about innovative energy solutions, such as renewable natural gas. Our goal is to communicate the work we do to provide reliable, affordable energy to homes and businesses, and highlight the progress we’re making to address climate change."

While I haven’t seen any Seattle-area influencers telling me the wonders of the gas stove, it seems like PSE’s recent pivot to kids’ education on natural gas is a concerted effort to rebrand the gas. They’ve partnered with the site “Energy Safe Kids” to “promote safety around electricity and natural gas for about the last month.”

“PSE and the gas industry continue to gloss over the health and safety impacts of gas,” Piedfort said. “Where was the fire station and health clinic in their coloring book?”

On the “Energy Safe Kids’” site there is, of course, the Natural Gas Town coloring poster. Kids can also color in a flame named—and I’m not kidding—“Don Fuego.”

Hello, Señor Fuego.
Hello, Señor Fuego. Energy Safe Kids screenshot

There’s a game called “Gas Dash.” There’s also this cute song by the mascot Thermilla on what to do when kids smell a potentially deadly natural gas leak in their home. Good safety, but maybe the problem is natural gas?

“Advertising to children while ignoring the climate, health, and safety impacts of gas is particularly gross,” Piedfort said. “When I was growing up, it was a different multi-billion industry that advertised to kids while hiding the health and safety impacts of their product. Instead of Big Tobacco and Joe Camel, we have PSE and Don Fuego. We need PSE to stop the greenwashing, stop with the cute little mascots and coloring books, and become a meaningful partner in moving off fossil fuels.”