In its draft leasing plan that will set the boundaries for oil development in federal waters from 2017 to 2022, the Obama Administration proposed allowing offshore drilling along the Atlantic Coast between Virginia and Georgia. Newspapers in the states that would be impacted by this plan have published articles and editorials highlighting local opposition and describing the economic and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling. As the administration approaches a final decision on offshore drilling, these concerns identified by state media outlets should inform national media coverage in the days and weeks ahead.
From the November 19 edition of CNBC's Squawk Box:
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From the April 30 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News dishonestly attacked the solar industry, implying that Yuma, Arizona's unemployment rate is higher than that of Midland, Texas due to the presence of a solar power plant and lack of natural gas or petroleum exploration. However, Yuma and Midland have completely different economic bases, and the Yuma solar plant has been lauded as a success.
Fox Business personalities seized on reports of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to push for approval of Keystone XL, ignoring the fact that the pipeline could lead to increased risk of spills near the Gulf Coast.
On March 23, Reuters reported that cleanup crews had quarantined a portion of the heavily trafficked Houston Ship Channel in response to a significant oil spill. The spill, estimated to be roughly 4,000 barrels (or 168,000 gallons), began after a tanker vessel carrying heavy fuel oil collided with a cargo ship in Galveston Bay, an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico.
On the March 24 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne and contributor Tracy Byrnes discussed the impact that the oil spill would have as "an impediment to growing out our fossil fuel industry" by providing ammunition for environmentalists. Byrnes then pivoted, claiming that the Galveston Bay oil spill was an example of why the Keystone XL oil pipeline project should be approved.
PAYNE: Anytime we hear these kind of things, it feels like another impediment to growing out our fossil fuel industry, another thing for environmentalists to rally around, although we know accidents are bound to happen.
BYRNES: You and Sandra [Smith] said it last hour, just do the Keystone Pipeline already, create all these jobs. Enough of the nonsense, these are all distractions, that's all they are.
Neither personality addressed the fact that the Keystone XL pipeline is specifically designed to transport heavy crude to refineries and export-bound oil tankers on the Gulf Coast, precisely the scenario that could lead to more spills like the one unfolding in Galveston Bay. The problem of increased water traffic is not unknown for oil sands pipelines. In December 2013, the Associated Press reported that a planned pipeline transporting Alberta oil sands to Vancouver, British Columbia would increase local tanker traffic "nearly sevenfold."
Furthermore, Payne and Byrnes' argument in favor of building the pipeline relied on debunked claims of job creation stemming from the Keystone XL project.
Fox News has shown before that it will use any and all opportunities to promote its fossil fuel agenda and the Keystone XL proposal. The network's latest advocacy for fossil fuels comes on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the most environmentally devastating oil tanker spill in American history.
From the June 1 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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The editorial boards of two newspapers owned by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz re-endorsed the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline project days after Nebraska's Governor approved a new route for the pipeline, but neither paper acknowledged the continued environmental danger of the project and both exaggerated the project's potential for job creation and consumer benefits.
The editorial boards of the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Oklahoman claimed that the Obama administration should approve the pipeline now that TransCanada -- the corporation seeking to build the pipeline -- has rerouted the project because it won't have a negative environmental impact. But in fact, the risk of a spill over environmentally sensitive areas remains. Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil, which is potentially more corrosive and difficult to clean up than regular crude oil, according NPR. The existing Keystone pipeline has had 14 spills, and the new route will still cross a large aquifer and, according to some groups, will still cross the environmentally sensitive sandy soil around the Sandhills.
Despite these issues, The Oklahoman editorial claimed that "U.S. customers will get the benefit" if the pipeline is built. However, the pipeline will not lower gasoline prices for consumers any noticeable amount, and some experts believe it could raise gas prices for consumers in the Midwest. Much of the oil, after being transported over American soil, will be shipped overseas.
And while The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial claimed the pipeline could create "179,000 American jobs" by 2035, these numbers are wildly inflated. That figure actually represents 179,000 "person-years of employment" -- a job for one person for one year -- and comes from an analysis funded by TransCanada that independent analysts have called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented." According to a Washington Post article, TransCanada admitted that the project would only create around 6,500 construction jobs for two years. Independent analyses have found even less job creation, with one study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would create as few as fifty permanent U.S. jobs.
Editorial bias in the Gazette and Oklahoman isn't surprising -- both papers are owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz. It's hard to take Anschutz's papers seriously given their distortions of the benefits oil and gas drilling, their dismissal of the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.
The Orange County Register advocated for expanded use of the controversial drilling technique known as fracking by citing an industry-funded study -- peer-reviewed by an expert with industry ties -- that concluded fracking is safe for California. From the editorial, titled "No need to fear fracking":
But the center [for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute] and its co-plaintiffs ignore the result of a recently released fracturing study, which was required as part of a 2011 legal settlement between community and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Plains Exploration and Production Co., owner and operator of the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles County.
The 206-page study, the first of its kind in the state, examined the threats fracturing posed to air and water, not to mention risks of increased seismic activity caused by drilling. It concluded there was no danger to public health and safety.
Indeed, the weight of objective scientific evidence suggests that fracturing is a safe technique. Properly regulated, there is no reason for California to restrict it.
Despite the Register's ringing endorsement of the findings, experts have challenged the study on several fronts. First, critics of the study voiced concern that the study did not look at the long-term impact of fracking and instead focused on the near-term impacts. Second, the study was conducted by the company with a financial stake in the outcome. As Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a blog:
We also are keenly aware that this study was funded by PXP, an oil company, and peer reviewed by at least one expert, John P. Martin, with ties to the oil and gas industry. Therefore, we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study's outcome. We will be seeking our own experts, but I also would recommend that California agencies with the appropriate expertise take a close look at this study and provide the public with their comments.
As Desmogblog.com noted, the expert, John P. Martin, has a questionable history surrounding his role as an independent peer reviewer. Martin, who runs JP Martin Energy Strategy, has worked in various sectors of the oil industry and is tied to the controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute, which came under fire last year when it published a study that had ties to the oil industry. The Institute closed in November.
In addition, far from being the conclusive silver bullet study the OC Register purported it to be, the study was viewed by public officials in California as a step, not a solution. The Los Angeles Times notes:
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the communities around the field, advised caution.
"The point is, we have more than one peer reviewer here," Ridley-Thomas said. "It's hardly done; it is up for further examination, further discussion and this is an important step in the process, but hardly a conclusive one."
As Media Matters has previously noted, experts have linked fracking to earthquakes and groundwater contamination and believe the practice could have a negative impact on California's agriculture and wine industry.
The Oklahoman relied on the "absence of compelling evidence" and the comments of a single geologist to conclude that the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma's history was not tied to fracking, despite mounting evidence that indicates otherwise. In doing so, the paper dismissed mounting evidence linking underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes at large, continuing its attempt to cast doubt on science and shut down policy debates that could affect the paper's owner, billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.
In a December 11 editorial, The Oklahoman dismissed the links between oil and gas exploration and earthquakes by saying "unless proven otherwise," any assumption of what caused the earthquake "should go to nature" instead of being attributed to mankind. From The Oklahoman editorial (emphasis added):
Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature. Unless proven otherwise.
This is the heart of the discussion on whether the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history was manmade rather than an act of nature. Some believe that oil and gas exploration activity in the area of the epicenter caused the quake. That's an assumption, as is the belief that earthquakes are natural phenomena always caused by nature and never by mankind.
We subscribe to the view that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature. But we live in a time when science-based policymaking is highly politicized and a portion of mankind dislikes humanity to the point of suspecting that many "natural" events (such as hurricanes) are the unnatural result of people.
The editorial points to one seismologist, Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland, who said, "until you can prove that it's not a natural earthquake, you should assume it's a natural earthquake." However, experts believe that the November 2011 earthquake and other events in Oklahoma -- such as the drastic increase from six earthquakes between 2000 and 2008 to 850 earthquakes between January 2010 and March 2011 in Oklahoma County -- point to a link between fracking-related activites, specifically wastewater injection, and seismic activity. Similar links have also been made in Dallas, Texas , Ohio, and Arkansas. Scientists from the United States Geological Survey also presented a report in April that found that "seismicity rate changes" in Arkansas and Oklahoma "are almost certainly manmade," although it remains unclear if the changes were related specifically to fracking or to the rate of oil and gas production.
Even shale development corporations have voiced their concerns that their activities may have contributed to seismic activity. Cuadrilla Resources, the only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas, admitted in a report that earthquakes near Blackpool, England were likely caused by their work in the area. From the Huffington Post:
The only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale rock said Wednesday that the controversial technique probably did trigger earth tremors in April and May.
But a report commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, which is drilling for gas in the area outside the northwestern English coastal resort town of Blackpool, cautioned that the tremors, measuring 1.9 and 2.8 on the Richter scale - were due to an unusual combination of geology and operations and were unlikely to happen again.
The Oklahoman editorial is the second editorial in two weeks to criticize the use of science in policy making. On November 28, the paper told policymakers to ignore science because it could hurt jobs and increase economic hardship "in the name of global warming theories" its editors don't believe are valid. In fact, since the paper was purchased by oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz, whose company sued a town that banned fracking, the paper has dismissed the links between fracking and groundwater contamination and written two previous editorials attacking the connection between fracking-related activities and seismic activity.
Despite the mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction could be harmful to our planet, The Oklahoman continues to disregard science and shut down any debate that might hurt its owner's financial interests.
From the October 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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CNN's Erin Burnett claimed yesterday that drilling in the Arctic would lower U.S. gasoline prices, echoing a conservative narrative that has been debunked by energy experts across the ideological spectrum who say that expanding U.S. production will not affect the world oil market.
During a segment on Shell's drilling expedition in the Arctic, Burnett suggested that "more drilling" in the U.S. is a solution to high gas prices in California and across the nation, saying: "One way to bring down costs, of course, would be more drilling and that is a highly political topic."
Meanwhile, Piers Morgan has repeatedly suggested that President Obama's energy policy is to blame for high gas prices.
But as their colleagues at CNN have explained, U.S. policies have little impact on the global price of oil. In April, CNN business correspondent Christine Romans said: "Republicans want to drill, drill, drill, drill, but just that won't solve the problem ... The only way to pay less for gas is to use less gas."
Indeed, a recent analysis by the Associated Press found "[n]o statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump." Drilling in the Arctic won't lower gas prices - it requires high prices. What NPR described as "Shell's multibillion dollar gamble to make drilling in the Arctic profitable and environmentally safe" only makes economic sense if oil prices remain high.
Fox News pundits have repeatedly claimed that fracking poses no risk to water supplies, even though there are several documented cases where extraction of shale gas and activities related to fracking have contaminated water. Watch how their blanket denials of risk contrast with real news reports on the damage natural gas extraction has done to water supplies:
Oil and gas companies are currently extracting natural gas at a record levels by drilling horizontally and then using a process called hydraulic fracturing (often called fracking), which involves injecting large amounts of water along with sand and chemicals at a high pressure in order to crack open shale rock and release the gas.
Many experts say the part of the process that has most often contaminated water is the first: drilling. A peer-reviewed study by Duke University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found methane levels were 17 times higher in water wells close to areas in Pennsylvania and New York where shale gas was being extracted, and linked the type of methane to shale-gas extraction. The researchers said that the contamination "likely was due to its escape from faulty drill casings," according to the Christian Science Monitor. Industry officials have admitted that poor drilling practices have contaminated water, and the Environmental Defense Fund's Scott Anderson estimated that one in ten wells have cement failures. Yet drilling is often under-regulated. In December 2009, ProPublica reported that "One in five states don't require that the concrete casing used to contain wells be tested before hydraulic fracturing," and a ProPublica investigation found that states experiencing booms in oil and gas production have not hired enough regulators to keep up.
Natural gas can help the U.S. transition away from reliance on coal in the near-term if it is produced responsibly. But conservative media have dismissed the risks involved with the rapid spread of natural gas extraction to push for deregulation, attack the Obama administration, and ignore the need for a comprehensive energy policy to transition to renewable energy.
Are lawmakers pursuing a "fundamentally misguided" goal when it comes to U.S. energy security? That's the concern voiced by a group of retired military officers and business leaders in a recent report warning that strategies focused on reducing imports of "foreign oil" are missing "the true nature of the problem." This spring, when average U.S. gasoline prices jumped 70 cents, the news media had an opportunity to clarify which policies and candidates actually stand to improve energy security. On the whole, they failed.
The report from the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) says the notion of "energy independence" is "widely misunderstood" in a way that "misdiagnoses the problem as one characterized largely by import levels," when in fact "energy security is almost entirely a function of the importance of oil consumption in the domestic economy." In other words, it's how much oil we need that makes us vulnerable, not where the oil is produced.
After all, countries like Canada and Norway, which have long been net oil exporters, saw the same debilitating price volatility that Americans have faced in recent years. The report, echoed by a subsequent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, says expanded domestic oil production benefits the trade deficit and employment, but not energy security -- contrary to the claims of industry, politicians, and commentators. Instead, it is vehicle fuel economy standards that the panel identified as "the most important energy security accomplishment in decades."
CONNECTING THE DOTS
While experts agree that policies reducing oil consumption do more to protect Americans from price shocks than policies increasing oil production, this fact has not been clearly communicated by the news media. Our analysis of news coverage of rising gasoline prices earlier this year found that only 2% of broadcast coverage, 4% of cable coverage, and 13% of print coverage mentioned fuel economy standards. Out of 69 print items on gas prices, only three acknowledged that reducing oil consumption is the most effective solution. Instead, the coverage often discussed domestic oil production or the Keystone XL pipeline. There are persuasive arguments in favor of both of these, but energy security and gas prices are not among them. (Unfortunately, energy security and gas prices are two of the arguments used most frequently by proponents and relayed uncritically by reporters.)
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."