In two recent Sinclair Broadcast Group reports on Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine, the right-wing broadcast giant aired pro-fossil fuel talking points urging the production of more oil and gas in the U.S.
U.S. lawmakers are working on an economic sanctions package in the event that Russia goes ahead with the invasion, and there have been some concerns that Russia may retaliate by cutting off oil and gas exports to Europe. Sinclair distorted these concerns to push for increased production in the U.S., though both reports acknowledged that such a policy would have limited impact on this potential problem.
A January 31 Sinclair report featured Patrick De Haan, an analyst from fuel price app Gasbuddy, saying, “It’s nearly impossible, probably completely impossible, to make up for the loss if Russia were to withhold either of those.” Later in the report, Sinclair aired another comment from De Haan calling for an end to “all policies and work to limit restrictions on the [fossil fuel] industry.” National correspondent Ahtra Elnashar added, “Critics say President Biden’s stance against fossil fuels and his push for green energy has discouraged domestic production of oil and natural gas.”
This report aired on at least 57 Sinclair-owned or -operated TV stations in 39 states, and additionally re-aired on the morning and nighttime editions of Sinclair’s weekday news program The National Desk, according to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database.
Sinclair aired another report on February 2 that also pushed fossil fuel industry talking points. This time it was straight from president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute Mike Sommers, who said, “We don’t want to be in a position that Europe finds itself in now, where they’re dependent on a hostile regime to their east that is pursuing energy dominance by dominating other countries.”
Sinclair correspondent Kristine Frazao included this quote from Sommers even after he pointed out that producing more domestic fossil fuels wouldn’t do much, saying, “The prices that people pay at the pump and to heat their homes, those are based on world prices. … there isn't just the United States price.” Frazao also pushed baseless criticism blaming “President Biden's policies, including limiting drilling here at home and canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline,” for “an emboldened Vladimir Putin.”
This report aired on at least 34 stations in 31 states before re-airing on the next morning’s National Desk, according to a transcript search.
In addition to the points raised in these reports about how more domestic fossil fuel production would do little to help Americans if Russia decides to withhold its supply from the global market, the idea of “energy independence” suggested often by proponents of increased domestic production is a complete myth. Even when the U.S. became a net exporter of oil in 2020, it still imported nearly as much as it produced. Statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that while the U.S. exported about 8.5 million barrels per day of petroleum in 2020 – which includes crude oil, gasoline, and other fossil fuel products – it was still importing nearly the equivalent amount, 7.86 million barrels per day. Russia’s fossil fuels accounted for nearly 7% U.S. imports that year.
These reports also falsely claim that U.S. fossil fuel production has declined during the Biden administration. Elnashar cited “critics” to claim Biden had “discouraged domestic production of oil and natural gas.” Frazao did the same thing, claiming Biden was “limiting drilling here at home.”
In fact, fossil fuel production increased by 2% in the U.S. during 2021, and the EIA “expects U.S. fossil fuel production to reach new highs in 2023.” While the Biden administration did pause fossil fuel drilling leases early in 2021 – almost none of which were being bid on – they resumed due to a court order later in the year. And as The Washington Post reported, “Biden has outpaced Donald Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands.” These Sinclair correspondents’ claims that Biden has limited fossil fuel production in the U.S. are a fantasy.
There’s also the very real fact that due to soaring profits, drilling companies in the U.S. are unresponsive to calls to increase production, likely because the scarcity allows them to keep prices high. The Guardian reported that the largest oil companies made $174 billion in profits last year, while drillers have deliberately cut back on production.
Unsurprisingly, the reports also ignore another major reason fossil fuel production shouldn’t be increased: climate change. In addition to the myriad ways climate change is already harming and killing people and threatening U.S. national security, it also harms energy production in multiple ways. The 2021 deep freeze in Texas cut natural gas production almost in half, and later in the year Hurricane Ida crippled fossil fuel production in the Gulf of Mexico for an extended period of time.
The more fossil fuel production is expanded, the worse all these problems will get. Yet Sinclair chose to omit these facts in favor of fabricated concerns that Biden is reducing fossil fuel production. And Sinclair’s promotion of pro-fossil fuel propaganda is nothing new.