Last month, a Radio Disney-sponsored, oil company-funded educational program performed a series of events at 26 elementary schools across Ohio, educating students about the alleged benefits of fracking.
The program, titled Rocking in Ohio, was led by three Radio Disney staffers and was entirely funded by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), a lobbying group funded by oil and gas companies.
From Al Jazeera America:
In each of the 26 demonstrations, a Radio Disney DJ named Taylor Bell directed teams of kids as they raced to build pipelines out of plastic straws. The first team to get three pingpong balls through the "pipelines" won the game. The kids were cheered on by Radio Disney employees and teachers as pop music played in the background.
"Our country cannot survive without oil and gas," OOGEEP's Ron Grosjean told the Wooster, Ohio, Daily Record. "Kids are the best way (to spread the message). They retain (the information); they remember it."
According to several local media reports, the demonstrations seemed to be a hit.
One said kids became "loud, noisy and raucous" in support of their teams.
While the OOGEEP notes that the term "fracking" is never used, environmental groups are up in arms about the program.
"It's troubling in the first place that they're going into elementary schools, and it's even more troubling that Disney is getting involved," Alison Auciello, an organizer with Food and Water Watch in Ohio, told Al Jazeera. "They're not giving a balanced education on (oil and gas). Public schools should also be inviting anti-fracking people into schools. That doesn't seem to be happening at all."
Robert Shields, the chair of Ohio's Sierra Club chapter, agreed, telling Al Jazeera, "Kids' ability to reason is not yet quite established, so it feels to me that they're getting some kind of propaganda."
Concerned parents have started a petition to stop the programs, which so far has garnered over 80,000 signatures, and for good reason: Last year, a series of earthquakes in eastern Ohio were linked to a disposal well used for fracking.
But the protests might be for naught: If Radio Disney deems the program a success, they have plans to expand it nationwide.
UPDATE 5:09 PM: Disney has backed out of the program:
Disney emailed a statement to Al Jazeera, saying the company has pulled out of the remaining installments of the Rocking Ohio tour.
"The sole intent of the collaboration between Radio Disney and the nonprofit Rocking in Ohio educational initiative was to foster kids' interest in science and technology. Having been inadvertently drawn into a debate that has no connection with this goal, Radio Disney has decided to withdraw from the few remaining installments of the program," the statement read.