Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Offshore Drilling And Poor Journalism

I often wonder at the failure of these US multi-billion news agencies to address the most basic questions that arise from the very news that they cover. Here is an example.

For the past couple of months we've heard arguments flying back and forth about lifting the ban offshore drilling around the US. Given the skyrocketing crude prices and that we're not going to avoid importing oil 10, 20 or 30 years out, I'm now all for it. Safety and pollution concerns are now very low, and we don't have the same wildlife refuge conservation considerations in offshore drilling as in ANWR.

The Democratic leadership (till recently including Obama) have opposed lifting the ban. They say that it won't help in the short term, and that oil companies have plenty of offshore areas that they can use first.

The first argument is silly - does it mean Congress and government should only limit itself to the most short-term measures? But the second argument about idle leases merits serious consideration, and no news agency that I know has asked the oil companies or Republicans to respond to this specific point, and then reported upon it. Instead the election coverage on energy issues by the likes of CNN is an endless blather of cross-talk among candidates, their surrogates and political pundits.

One place where I found a partial rebuttal to this "use idle leases first" argument is on this QandO blog. In short it says that leases take a very long time to work, are held up by many procedural steps, and require a lot of capital investment that is costly or hard to come by. It's only a partial rebuttal because it doesn't fully answer the question: if the oil companies have their hands so full that they can't get through these existing leases, then where will they find the capacity to explore the new areas?

Still, at least this little blog tries to answer this most obvious of questions. That's a lot more than has been done by the large and sophisticated media outlets.

All is not lost. Some new programs with welcome depth are coming on air. My favorite is CNN's Fareed Zakaria's GPS (Global Public Square) that started a few weeks ago and covers central global and foreign issues.


kenrod said...

It is funny how the public sways from "expensive oil" to "forget the environment". Plato did say that the masses are asses. And the leadership is also so short sighted.

But let's get some of the facts straight. ANWR is a tiny dot in the landscape and drilling there won't affect the moose or trees. And modern technology allows safe methods of extraction and total restoration after the oil companies leave.

However, making oil cheaper is like telling a drug user that the price of cocaine will be lowered. The current globalization model of shipping stuff around is clearly in danger. It makes no sense to cut trees in Oregon, ship it to China to make furniture, then ship it back to the USA. The fact is we're consuming way too much furniture. Years ago, a china hutch would cost $10,000 or more, and it would be handed down from generation to generation. Today, it costs $2000 and we change the hutch every 3 years like we change fashion.

But the global business model based on cheap fuel is clearly endangering the future. I see it's days numbered and several jobs returning back to the areas of consumption. And while I don't see anything wrong with oil companies, or any other company making money, Congress shouldn't give them tax breaks for drilling.

Sandip Madan said...

Great points, Kenrod, and I almost completely agree. Just on ANWR I think we should be a little wary about the ecology preservation claims.

On tax breaks to oil companies I haven't seen any in depth reporting on what these are, precisely. Another example of lax journalism.