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  • Most major Colorado newspapers fail to mention climate change in editorials about fracking-related ballot initiative

    Only one of 12 editorials mentioned climate change in relation to Proposition 112. In light of the recent U.N. climate report, that’s very worrying

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Proposition 112 in Colorado would require new oil and gas wells to be farther away from occupied buildings, which would seriously limit fracking in the state. Media Matters analyzed 12 Colorado newspaper editorials expressing a position on Proposition 112, and only one of them mentioned climate change.

    Colorado's Proposition 112 would rein in oil and gas drilling and help fight climate change

    Proposition 112 would require that new oil and gas development projects, including fracking, be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings and "vulnerable areas,” including schools, hospitals, parks, lakes, and rivers. The current minimum setback distance for wells is 500 feet. The initiative would not affect federal lands or Colorado's 55,000 currently active wells.

    Colorado Rising, the main advocacy group supporting this initiative, points to a growing body of research showing serious health and safety effects related to fracking, especially when residents live within a half-mile of wells. Protect Colorado, the chief opposition group, contends that the initiative would effectively ban new oil and gas development in the state, costing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefits.

    Spending on this initiative is incredibly lopsided. Opponents have raised over $31 million, most of it from oil and gas companies including Anadarko, Noble Energy, and PDC Energy. The Koch brothers' network is pitching in too; the Colorado chapter of the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity recently formed an issue committee to fight Proposition 112. On the other side, supporters of the initiative have raised only about $1.6 million, with the biggest donor being the Food and Water Watch Action Fund.

    Much of the debate around Proposition 112 has involved the health impacts of fracking and the economic influence of the oil and gas industry, but climate change is another critical issue. A scientific study in 2015 found that half of the world's gas reserves and a third of oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to prevent the average global temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. More recently, a major report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that 2 degrees of warming is too much and humanity would suffer greatly if the average temperature rises more than 1.5 degrees, further underlining the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

    Only one of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials on Proposition 112 mentioned climate change, and only two endorsed the measure

    Media Matters analyzed 12 newspaper editorials that took a position on Proposition 112, including the largest newspapers by circulation in Colorado. Only one of them made note of climate change.

    On September 29, Boulder’s Daily Camera published an editorial that placed Proposition 112 into the broader context of the climate crisis:

    In the bigger picture, Proposition 112 comes before voters amid ubiquitous signs of a climate change emergency. The last four years saw the hottest January-June periods ever recorded on Earth. Scientists have tied climate change to a greater number of large wildfires in the West and bigger and stronger hurricanes, among other environmental disasters. This week it was reported that the climate change-denying Trump administration itself assumes global temperatures will rise an apocalyptic 7 degrees by 2100. Job losses are always lamentable, but the transition toward green energy sources is a practical and moral imperative, and Proposition 112 would play a role in achieving such progress.

    Only two of the 12 editorials endorsed Proposition 112 -- those in the Daily Camera and The Aspen Times. The overwhelming newspaper editorial opposition to Proposition 112 does not reflect recent public polling in the state, which found that 52 percent of Colorado voters supported Proposition 112.

    The 10 editorials that opposed Proposition 112 and failed to mention climate change were published in these papers:

    Some of these editorials parroted industry talking points. For example, both The Pueblo Chieftain and Steamboat Pilot & Today argued that if Proposition 112 passed, over 147,500 jobs could be lost by 2030, and the state could lose more than $1 billion in tax revenue. These numbers are trumpeted by the opposition campaign and come from a report by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR), a right-leaning, free-market think tank whose founders are tied to the oil and gas industry. In 2015, CSPR was found to have been working on behalf of Koch-backed groups and the fracking industry, and selectively editing studies in ways that would help promote fracking in Colorado.

    Of the 10 editorials that recommended a "no" vote on Proposition 112, four of them completely neglected to mention the health effects of fracking, which has been the main issue driving the "yes" campaign -- those in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, The Pueblo Chieftain, and The Durango Herald.

    Media Matters also reviewed the Canon City Daily Record, the Lakewood Sentinel, the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald, the Telluride Daily Planet, and the Vail Daily, but the editorial boards at these papers do not appear to have taken a position on Proposition 112.

    Ballot measures in Colorado and other states are among the most important climate-related votes this year

    If Proposition 112 is approved, it could have major implications not just for the oil and gas industry in Colorado but around the country, as industry executives are “fearful that it could encourage similar measures across the nation,” The New York Times recently reported. Ballot measures in Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and other states could have serious repercussions for fossil fuel companies and greenhouse gas emissions as well.

    In light of the recent U.N climate report and worsening weather disasters around the U.S., it’s worrying that an overwhelming majority of Colorado newspapers ignored climate change as they weighed in on an energy-related ballot initiative. They appear to have decided that short-term economic gains and industry support are more important than the long-term health of both Coloradans and the planet.

  • Which Western Newspapers Connected Wildfires To Climate Change?

    Blog ››› ››› MAX GREENBERG

    Source: NASA Earth Observatory

    As some of the most destructive wildfires in history ravage the Southwest, major newspapers in the area have documented the way climate change makes blazes more likely less than half as often as national newspapers.

    Recent fires have taken a massive toll as the hottest, driest parts of the U.S. become even hotter and drier. In Arizona, 19 firefighters perished in the worst American wildfire disaster in decades, a quick-moving inferno that destroyed a small town. Months ago, fire season began early in California, and it has since been called the state's worst ever. Colorado recently experienced the most destructive wildfire in its history, bringing the total area set aflame this season within the state to about 180 square miles, larger than the area of Barbados. New Mexico and Utah have lately faced "unprecedented" and "potentially explosive" fires, respectively.

    Fires like these must be sparked (by anything from lightning to a stray rifle shot), but research indicates that climate change, and the extreme heat and drought conditions it propagates in the Southwest, boosts the chances that they will happen and cause significant damage. Indeed, seven out of nine fire scientists contacted by Media Matters as part of a 2012 study agreed that journalists should detail the role of climate change in worsening risk when they report on such fires.

  • 5 Myths About Keystone XL, Debunked

    ››› ››› JILL FITZSIMMONS

    As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Here, Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.

  • Oil Tycoon's Newspapers Hype Flawed Keystone XL Pipeline

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    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.

  • How The Colorado Springs Gazette's New Owner Could Influence Its Energy Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Philip Anschutz, billionaire oil baron-turned-media mogul, has acquired the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding the Colorado daily to a growing stable of Anschutz-controlled newspapers that includes the largest newspaper in the neighboring state of Oklahoma; and if the past is any indication, the future objectivity of the Gazette's content, especially as it pertains to energy issues, is in considerable peril. 

    Since being acquired by Anschutz in September 2011, The Oklahoman, especially its editorial page, has consistently advocated for energy policy positions that would line its owner's pockets. The Gazette looks poised to follow suit -- other than the goal of providing content across a variety of technological platforms, the only specific changes Anschutz has promised (through his media company Clarity Media Group) constitute a vast expansion of the paper's opinion pages, with no mention of additional resources needed to report the news.

    From the Gazette's editorial board (emphasis added):

    In coming weeks, expect to see exciting changes. Clarity executives plan to add pages and personnel. The opinion section will expand from one page to at least two on weekdays, and possibly more on Sundays. We will add new columnists and additional editorials. Readers should begin seeing changes very soon.

    Mostly, we will work with more dedication than ever to serve our community with news and information our customers want and need. We plan to inform customers in print and on all platforms, ranging from smartphones, to tablets, to laptops and all other information mediums the public chooses to embrace today and into the future. We will inform, persuade and entertain. We will serve as a watchdog, guarding liberty and the interests of our community.

    Given Colorado's importance as a (re-)emerging source of oil shale and natural gas, and given Anschutz's use of The Oklahoman's opinion pages to advocate for open drilling policies and against carbon controls, Gazette readers can likely expect a similar kind of distorted coverage and commentary. (In late November, for example, The Oklahoman's editors expressed skepticism about global warming and warned against "mixing science" with politics).

    And the Gazette's current editors didn't wrap up their announcement with reassurances that their coverage would remain independent and uninfluenced by ownership -- just the opposite, in fact:

    Anschutz has been successful in business, ranking high on the Forbes 400 for decades, because he works to improve the world he lives in.

    We at The Gazette plan to help him expand this important role.

    Of course, the Forbes 400 doesn't rank people on their contributions to society -- it's a "definitive ranking of the nation's super rich." Presumably, Anschutz has remained on the list for decades because he's skilled at making money, and he now has the Gazette to help him make even more.