The Island of Doubt

Polls show that most Americans want to drill here and drill now. Why? Because the television media haven’t told them just how stupid an idea that really is. That’s the conclusion of a study by a group called the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a relatively independent economic think tank. The authors point out that there’s a perfectly reliable source, in the form of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency, that predicts that drilling on the outer continental shelf (OCS) will have little impact if any, on oil prices any time soon.

And yet, a survey of broadcast and cable network programming found that:

… out of 267 news programs between June 16th and August 9th, in major media outlets on this subject, there was only one, or less than one half of one percent, that cited the EIA’s estimate that the increased oil production would not significantly affect gasoline prices.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the 2007 EIA study that got a single mention (on CNN):

The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030…. For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher ;;;; 2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case. Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

And anyone who thinks the price of gas will be anything like affordable in 2030 is fooling themselves. The EIA figures almost certainly overestimate the amount of oil available in 2030, given the increasing likelihood that peak oil is here or almost here, so perhaps OCS supplies will represent a bit more than the predicted 7%. But by then, the gap between demand and supply will be so large than only folks in John McCain’s tax bracket will be able to afford to fill their tanks.

I don’t expect the mainstream media to understand the implications of peak oil … yet. But they could at least give their audiences the necessary background to understand a public policy debate that has degenerated into rounds of “Drill, Baby, Drill.” Don’t you agree?

Here’s the more diplomatic conclusion of the CEPR study:

Just as economic reporting regularly uses data (unemployment, inflation, GDP, trade) from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, or Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporting on energy relies on data from the EIA. In the case of a very prominent and widely reported public debate over drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, which received widespread attention, it is thus reasonable to expect that the media would provide its audience with information from the country’s most authoritative source on energy statistics.

Apparently not. So forget the fuss over NBC’s decision to yank Olbermann and Matthews from the political anchor desk. It’s not bias we have to worry about, it’s simple failure to provide the most basic journalistic service.


  1. #1 Thai
    September 9, 2008

    James, this is the first time I have ever read any of your blog postings so I do not know where your personal views on this topic. But as most anti-drillers I have read seem to fit in two camps: 1. “the benefit is not worth the risk to the environment” or 2. “it is a waste of time since it won’t do anything to stop peak oil”, I will assume your views lie somewhere withine one of these camps. If I am way off, please forgive me.

    Anyway, as just a suggestion, IF you are making a case against oil drilling, you might consider a different approach. You MIGHT try a “what’s in it for me (i.e. your reader)” approach and see if that gets more traction.

    Remember, studies show that most people are more likely to donate (and donate larger amounts) to charities when they see a personal benefit as opposed to simply looking at the donatin as an act of pure altruism (which they will do anyway).

    IF peak oil is true (and I am not convinced it is in the way most people use the term– of course I do realize there is only a finite supply of oil… but that is another topic), perhaps you might suggest to peak you speak with that oil prices will be MUCH higher in the future and therefore the oil is actually far more valuable tomorrow than it is today and that it would be silly to bring it up from the ground now when we can get such higher prices tomorrow.

    Anyway, just a thought


  2. #2 paulm
    September 10, 2008

    Thai if they start the drill now the oil wont be coming up until the next 10yrs at least anyways.

    Also it is going to get expensive and it is going to run out and it is a huge security issue (and it is going to mess up the environment), so now is the time to start investing and switching to alternatives big time.

    Thats the rub.

    Great Climate Change media approach here with David Letterman: