Environment, Media, News, Op-Eds

NBC Rejects Ad Attacking Keystone–Runs One With Factual Errors

NBC rejected an advertisement attacking the Keystone XL pipeline and TransCanada, apparently at the “last minute” according to climate group NextGen. There is some suspicion that the network’s coziness with the petroleum industry had some influence on the decision because it ran ads promoting the pipeline. From ThinkProgress:

“Given that we complied with the station’s process, the fact that the ad is accurate in exposing TransCanada’s representation regarding the Keystone Pipeline and WRC/NBC’s history of taking advertising petro-dollars, something simply does not smell right here,” Executive Director of NextGen Tom Adams said in a statement.

According to NBC’s advertising guidelines, NextGen’s ad will not be aired because it is “an attack of a personal nature, a direct attack on an individual business or a comment on a private dispute.” The ad parodies the image of TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, who is characterized as an evil corporate fat cat intent on increasing gas prices and exporting crude oil to China. NBC is justified in its rejection of the advertisement.

The ad aired by NBC that was sponsored by TransCanada, however, claims that Canadian tar sands oil is cleaner than oil produced in California, citing an editorial from the scientific journal Nature. The ad also cites a State Department study that reportedly concludes that the Keystone XL pipeline would have “little effect on climate change.”

Even though the ad does fulfill NBC’s requirement of having a “basis for the claims” for the purpose of reasonable debate, some of its own sources are flawed or misinterpreted. In the cited piece from Nature, it does say that tar sands oil is cleaner than Californian oil, but the sentence right after seems to contradict that claim:

Tar-sands development raises serious air- and water-quality issues in Canada, but these problems are well outside Obama’s jurisdiction.

They may very well become an American problem, since the pipeline will exploit the tar sands deposits that exist in the Midwest. Nature also says that the pipeline will improve the president’s standing “within industry” (presumably the oil industry) and “among conservatives,” completely ignoring the environmental and economic repercussions of approving the pipeline, which will be touched upon later.

The cited article from The Washington Post takes the claim that the pipeline would have “little impact on the climate” out of context. The article actually says the following:

The State Department concluded that either blocking or approving the Keystone XL pipeline would have a small impact on overall greenhouse-gas emissions and future tar-sands expansions. That’s because, in its view, most of Alberta’s oil will find a way to get to the market anyway — if not by pipeline, then by rail.

Even that is incorrect. The difference between blocking and approving the pipeline’s construction is the amount of oil that makes it to the market. Approving the pipeline means an increased oil supply, almost doubled by 2025. The State Department study still does not seem to support the claims that the pipeline would improve the American economy, saying that the “ultimate disposition of the crude oil transported by the proposed Project…would be determined by market forces.” In other words, there is no guarantee that the oil would be for sole American consumption. Instead, the oil would be used to help satisfy the demand for oil in the global market. Furthermore, the pipeline has already had a significant impact on the environment, noted by the record-breaking 12 spills in its first year and an EPA response to the State Department’s assessment of its economic and environmental impact.

That alone should put NBC in a tough spot — and there’s more. Supporters of the Keystone pipeline claim that it would lower gas prices and help improve national energy security. However, a report from Consumer Watchdog tells the opposite:

In the Midwest, if the price of Canadian oil rises by $20 to $30 a barrel, prices for regular gasoline could rise by 20 cents to 40 cents a gallon.

Increases in the price of gasoline have a direct negative economic effect. A widely quoted 2009 estimate by the chief economist of Credit Suisse states that a one-cent increase in the price of gasoline decreases other spending in the U.S. economy by $1 billion over a year.

In the Midwest alone, each year of only a 20-cent-a-gallon increase could rip $3 billion to $4 billion from more productive spending. The up to $4 billion in Midwest economic loss is close to the amount that TransCanada would spend on the pipeline project, canceling a major claim of U.S. economic benefit. While the company says it will spend $7 billion, some of that will be spent in Canada and some has already been spent, so it is has no future economic effect.

As for the plan to improve national energy security, a report by Public Citizen debunks that notion:

The very purpose of the Keystone pipeline is to take landlocked tar sands oil to the exportoriented refineries of the Gulf Coast, refine the low-grade oil in specially equipped refineries, and then ship the refined product onto world markets. As Canadian Energy Minister Ken Hughes said recently, “for Alberta, the strategic imperative is that we get our [petroleum] products to the ocean, so that we secure global prices for our products … The solutions are additional pipelines to the West Coast, to the East Coast [and] to the Gulf Coast.”

Independent of the fact that “dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds” have been found along the southern segment of the pipeline, TransCanada is misleading the public with its advertising using questionable studies and a flawed analysis of a government assessment. That alone should have been enough to reject TransCanada’s ad campaign to promote Keystone XL, but no.

Giving NBC the benefit of the doubt, NextGen’s ad truly is in blatant violation of the network’s advertising guidelines. However, the factual discrepancies of TransCanada’s ad and its disregard for the consequences of Keystone XL show that the claims made have no substance. It turns out that the only ad’s proper presentation and citations–perhaps even TransCanada’s financial influence–saved it from being rejected.

Young Progressive Voices has also covered the role of conservative media outlets (not NBC; Fox, specifically) in lowering trust in science and causing disbelief in the very real phenomena of human-influenced climate change. Read more here.

About Cristóbal Reyes

Cristóbal Reyes is a first-generation Chilean-American, a progressive political activist, and an aspiring political journalist. He studies Journalism and Political Science at the University of Central Florida and enjoys debating public policy and social issues.


One thought on “NBC Rejects Ad Attacking Keystone–Runs One With Factual Errors

  1. The only reason our government is pushing for this pipeline, has a lot to do with those that have investments in the keystone pipeline(like speaker Boehner with investments in 7 of the keystone pipeline corp) and nothing to do with helping the people. In fact this pipeline will go right across the midwest aquifer and when(not if) it leaks it has the power to contaminate the drinking and agriculture water. They have still not been able to clean up the disaster in mayflower AK Of course our mainstream corporate owned media isn’t talking about it.

    Posted by 503me | August 12, 2013, 1:30 pm

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