After weeks of Sinclair Broadcast Group TV programming that pushed pro-fossil fuel propaganda and attacked renewable energy, a fact check by the nighttime edition of The National Desk debunked some of those talking points. But during the next broadcast of the program’s morning edition, the Sinclair anchor and her guest repeated those same false talking points anyway.
On March 4, Sinclair’s nighttime National Desk aired a fact-check segment about recent public debate over high gas prices. During the segment, a Sinclair investigative producer explained that “American oil suppliers aren't eager to ramp up supply” and that they're seeing huge profits. She also explained that even if the fossil fuel companies did start immediately drilling new oil wells, “it could take anywhere from months to years for that oil to start flowing,” meaning it is not a solution for today’s high gas prices.
Even though Sinclair finally acknowledged that starting new drilling for oil in the U.S. won’t affect gas prices in the near future (after last month’s coverage that pushed for new drilling for this same false reason), the very next morning edition of The National Desk returned to advocating for more oil drilling to reduce gas prices. During this segment, anchor Jan Jeffcoat and Alfredo Ortiz of the right-wing corporate lobbying group Job Creators Network also pushed the myth of “complete energy independence” and made intentionally vague allegations that Biden administration policies were slowing the production of oil in America.
No, it’s not just that easy, Alfredo, for the reasons explained by the earlier Sinclair report. But Ortiz and Jeffcoat misled their audience about several other things as well.
First of all, last month’s EIA report that Ortiz referenced when he said the U.S. is now a “net importer of oil overall” explained that the U.S. had became a net exporter of oil only in 2020 -- prior to that, we were importing more, but other oil-exporting nations decreased their production because of the huge drop in demand during the pandemic. It also explained that the U.S. is already on track to increase oil production “to an all-time high” next year, without any new policy changes:
Historically, the United States has been a net importer of petroleum. During 2020, COVID-19 mitigation efforts caused a drop in oil demand within the United States and internationally. International petroleum prices decreased in response to less consumption, which diminished incentives for key petroleum-exporting countries to increase production. This shift allowed the United States to export more petroleum in 2020 than it had in the past.
Also in 2020, the difference between U.S. crude oil imports and exports fell to its lowest point since at least 1985. Net crude oil imports subsequently rose by 19% in 2021 to an average of 3.2 million barrels per day (b/d) as crude oil consumption increased in response to rising economic activity. We forecast that the United States will continue to import more crude oil than it exports in 2022, reaching an estimated annual average of 3.9 million b/d. However, we expect net imports to fall to 3.4 million b/d in 2023 as domestic crude oil production increases to an all-time high of 12.6 million b/d.
Ortiz also failed to specify which Biden policies he is claiming are holding up more oil production -- which is another false claim, given that oil production actually rose last year compared to Donald Trump’s final year in office, and the Biden administration has so far issued drilling permits on public lands at even higher rates than Trump did. Along with the previous Sinclair fact check explaining the supply issues, a June fact check from USA Today explained that Biden’s policies on oil production are having no negative effect on our current gas prices:
Many critics point to Biden's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as fueling the gas price spike, but experts say there's no such connection.
The extension of the Keystone pipeline, first proposed in 2008 by TC Energy based in Calgary, Canada, was rejected by former President Barack Obama in November 2015 but later approved by Trump in March 2017 . Biden then suspended the project in January. And on June 9, TC Energy announced it was terminating the project.
Even if construction wasn't halted, the Keystone XL pipeline wasn't in operation and therefore wouldn't have an impact on current gas prices, said Finley of Rice University.
“That was something that would impact down the road," he said.
David Dismukes, economist and executive director of [Louisiana] State University's Center for Energy Studies, agreed, telling USA TODAY the pipeline would have had a “longer-run impact in providing a diversity of supply for refineries in the Gulf Coast."
Similarly, other energy policies rolled out by President Biden, such as postponing oil lease sales, have a long-term, but not short-term, effect.
“If you look at some of the actions taken by the administration with regard to offshore drilling, drilling on federal lands, the outlook for fossil fuel energies in general, those are impacting the price of crude and expectations about crude oil," said Diskmukes. “(Biden's policies do) have an impact, but that's not what you're seeing at the pump right now."
The March 7 Sinclair segment also claimed the U.S. was “energy independent” and didn’t have to rely on Russian oil in 2020, neither of which are true. The idea of “energy independence” often suggested by proponents of increased domestic fossil fuel production is a complete myth. In fact, the U.S. was still importing nearly as much oil as it exported in 2020 -- and Russian oil accounted for nearly 7% of U.S. imports that year.
Besides all the lies told by Jeffcoat and Ortiz, their fantasy of 2020 as a golden age of cheap gas prices was, in reality, a terrible nightmare. As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) aptly put it:
This is not the first time that Sinclair coverage has called out misinformation pushed by its own employees, and it likely won’t be the last. Sinclair’s conservative misinformers really should find accurate talking points that won’t be debunked by a two-minute segment from its night crew.