A shadowy new organization attacking the climate efforts of Canadian cities is infiltrating Google searches and ads in the New York Times and other publications online.

The group — Voice for Energy — bills itself as a platform for Canadians to "speak up" against municipalities implementing measures to reduce or ban natural gas to "protect" people’s so-called "energy choice."

The group keeps its provenance secret, with no phone numbers or staff listed on its website. A search of its metadata through the Whois database reveals the domain name was created in April 2023, but any information that could identify the website's owners is redacted.

The group did not respond to two requests for more details about the organization from Canada's National Observer.

Last week, some Canadian New York Times readers were greeted with an ad from the organization targeting Burnaby, B.C.'s recent decision to ban gas hook-ups in new buildings.

Canadian Google users have also been targeted by the group, as reported by DeSmog reporter Geoff Dembicki and according to the platform's ad transparency database. Those ads have been running Canada-wide since mid-October accompanied by photos of diverse, happy-looking families. The most recent ad was published on Jan. 10, 2024.

"It is a fear campaign. They're trying to get people scared that if we don't keep natural gas, then we won't have reliable electricity," said Julien Beaulieu, a Université de Sherbrooke lecturer. "That's what this campaign is about. It is about making people scared of renewables."

According to Voice for Energy's website, the group is a "national initiative of gas energy companies and stakeholders" who claim to be protecting Canadians’ "energy choice." The sleek site encourages visitors to contact their elected representatives and share information about the organization on social media.

However, Google's ad database lists them as belonging to CGA Enterprises, a venture of the Canadian Gas Association, Canada's largest natural gas lobby group. The group did not respond to two requests for comment from Canada's National Observer by deadline.

A shadowy new organization attacking the climate efforts of Canadian cities is infiltrating Google searches and ads in the New York Times and other publications online.

The campaign marks the latest public move in an ongoing battle between Canada's natural gas industry and efforts by municipalities and environmental groups across the country to stop using the fuel. Preventing the infrastructure from being built is key to stopping gas from being embedded in communities, explained environmental lawyer Calvin Sandborn.

Natural gas is primarily made with methane — a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than CO2 — and is extracted from fossilized gas deposits. Experts have warned we must not exploit the fuel if we want to prevent catastrophic global heating. The warning has prompted dozens of cities like Nanaimo, B.C., Montreal, and Prévost, Que. to ban new buildings or retrofits from using the fuel.

Voice for Energy represents only a fraction of the effort Canada's natural gas industry is making to remain in business as governments push for more sustainable alternatives, like electric heat pumps. In B.C., gas utility FortisBC is leveraging the minute amount of so-called "renewable natural gas," which is made from organic waste and manure, to run greenwashing campaigns against municipalities banning gas hook-ups in new buildings.

Further east, Ontario utility Enbridge has fudged numbers to avoid climate-focused restrictions. Quebec utility Énergir sued the 12,000-person community of Prévost over the town's decision to ban natural gas in new buildings and require retrofitted buildings to replace gas with fossil-fuel-free alternatives, with both parties reaching a settlement in December.

Voice for Energy's claim that it wants to give Canadians "energy choice" is a noteworthy rhetorical shift, said Chris Russill, a Carleton University communications professor. Faced with proliferating bans on natural gas infrastructure and growing consumer interest in electric alternatives like heat pumps, companies have started to "redirect the language of energy transition to energy diversification," he said.

The goal is to lock in gas infrastructure to protect their markets from economic change, consumer alternatives and regulation, he said.

Beaulieu agreed. "If you start investing in natural gas infrastructure, then you're postponing the transition," he said.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
January 15, 2024, 09:40 am

Update: This story was updated to note that Énergir and the town of Prévost, Que. reached a settlement in the lawsuit on December 21, 2023.

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This sort of action by status quo players, in whatever business, should be expected in response to public policy issues; it's entirely predictable.

No one should be discouraged by it.

Some details in the article, however, point out the difficulties arising from the lack of regulation of the digital economy.

Specifically, any entity with a web presence should not have anonymity. A freedom to share views and opinions is one thing, but I don't recall any implied freedom to remain anonymous.

Or Fooled. There's nothing clean, or transitional........about Methane.

Most likely this campaign is a waste of money which could be better spent by Natural Gas's profiteers by finding ways to detoxify and de carbonize their products. For a significant percentage of the population natural/propane gas has always been a problem and significant worry due to its explosive tendencies and recent revelations of its habit of leakingand the health effects of its toxins. All fossil fuels are pricing themselves out of the market - due to greed or due to failing to compete with renewables.

Perhaps that's because they can't really compete with renewables when it comes to greenhouse gases.
I've actually been very angry with fossil gas boosters since I learned what gas ranges do to the lungs of our children....and finally woke up to the fact there's nothing clean about methane gas.
Now I also worry about the tendency of fossil fools to not do due maintenance....and wonder....how longdo we have before some of those gas lines, put in who remembers when, start to age and develop leaks???
Could some of our homes go ka-boom in the night??

I'm afraid that at some point in the foreseeable future, the answer is yes.

“This country should no longer tolerate a situation where the public interest, in so vital a field as information, is dependent on the greed or goodwill of an extremely privileged group of businessmen.”

It feels like that quote could have been written today, doesn’t it? But get this: it’s actually from a senate report about the state of journalism in Canada from more than 50 years ago. Emma Gilchrist, The Narwhal

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” — Thomas Paine