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Why are the Media Failing Canadians on Energy Knowledge?

I recently wrote this article for a Canadian energy industry audience - but I believe the message is valid everywhere.  The energy industry gets a lot of negative press, but much of that - particularly in oil and gas - arises from poorly-researched reporting, and the tendency of the media to publish clickable, green-sounding press releases without adequate review or commentary. 

And here are some followup thoughts:

So the day after I share my analysis of media posting energy stories that do not tell the public a balanced story, out comes the Financial Post (a Canadian national newspaper) writing about a study by the Rocky Mountain Institute (https://rmi.org/). RMI's mission is to "transform global energy use to create a clean prosperous and low-carbon energy future".

A worthy goal, but one that makes the reader wary of their impartiality.

The headline reads "Natural gas-fired power plants will get crushed by wind, solar by 2035: study". But what did the headline and story miss? Read page 30 of RMI's report. I'll summarize with a more accurate headline considering page 30: "Clean energy proponents generate models suggesting that wind and solar generation may be more economic as marginal additions to regional grids".

In other words, you can add renewable capacity marginally, but you can't build a power grid with it. Shouldn't that be part of the story?

 

Brad Hayes's picture

Thank Brad for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 13, 2019 1:41 pm GMT

What do you think is part of the solution, Brad? I think a lot of the issue is how complex and nuanced many issues in the energy industry can be, some that make those who work in utilities have a tough time grasping them-- so the general public has an even harder time. How do we go about raising energy literacy, encouraging people to learn more, and bolster balanced reporting?

Brad Hayes's picture
Brad Hayes on Sep 13, 2019 4:56 pm GMT

Matt you are absolutely right about the complexity of the issues.  Particularly in oil and gas, we are opposed by well-organized, media-savvy groups that will say anything to oppose development.  Many of their statements are untrue or at least out of context, but are designed to be emotionally appealing and to fire up the public.  In the U.S., I understand Democratic candidates are promising to "stop fracking" - one of the most totally ignorant and impossible promises I have every heard - yet their call is resonating with the deep foundation of ignorance created by the anti-development groups.  Knowledgeable professionals across the spectrum of energy providers must push back with facts and reason.  But most critically, we must craft the messages to reach and to excite and interest the public - because most people are not naturally inclined to believe facts over emotion.  One choice we are making in Canada is to organize response teams to mass media outlets to provide timely, relevant, and appealing information around the realities of resource extraction and energy production.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 13, 2019 5:27 pm GMT

 But most critically, we must craft the messages to reach and to excite and interest the public - because most people are not naturally inclined to believe facts over emotion.  One choice we are making in Canada is to organize response teams to mass media outlets to provide timely, relevant, and appealing information around the realities of resource extraction and energy production.

Definitely understand where the oil industry is coming from, but how do you craft those messages in a way that won't be seen by the public as simply 'big oil spin' and almost feeding into the messaging of the other side? Seems like being a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place

Brad Hayes's picture
Brad Hayes on Sep 13, 2019 6:49 pm GMT

Matt you are absolutely right.  It's an art form to communicate effectively.  To paraphrase Bones McCoy  "Dammit Matt, I'm a geologist, not a media personality".  The worst case scenario is that the anti-industry folks succeed in crippling energy industries so badly that they create energy shortage disasters that will finally wake the public up.  For example, I understand it's hard to get new gas service in parts of New York right now. 

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