The Global View

How NOT to cover energy news

What’s the best way to understand developments in the energy world? A Daily Ticker story on Yahoo! Finance provides a glaring example of how not to do so.

Serious energy analysts usually find lots to complain about in the mainstream media’s coverage of energy issues, and those complaints — a tendency toward stenography, innumeracy, lack of context and “magical thinking” — are often justified. But the Daily Ticker article titled “US to Be Free from Foreign Oil by 2030: BP” dials those complaints up to 11.

How? Let’s have a look, shall we?

  • Start with the headline: “US to Be Free from Foreign Oil by 2030: BP” – This is supposedly the big news flash coming out of BP’s latest “Energy Outlook 2030,” which was released last month. Only that’s not what the “Energy Outlook 2030” says. The closest any statement from BP comes to resembling the breathless headline is this comment from the press release accompanying the report: “The growth of unconventional supply, including US shale oil and gas, Canadian oil sands, and Brazilian deepwaters, against a background of a gradual decline in oil demand, will see the Western Hemisphere become almost totally energy self-sufficient by 2030.” Hmm, Western Hemisphere = US? Nope. Foreign Oil = Energy? Wrong again.
  • Then there’s this howler from the article: “The drilling process used to bring (natural) gas to the surface is widely known as ‘fracking.’ ” Um, no. “Fracking,” the much-despised (by the gas industry) shortened term for “hydrofracturing,” is just one way of extracting natural gas from the earth.
  • Preceding that reference to fracking, the article also offers up this non-sequitur: “As the country expands its domestic natural gas production, the US will buy less foreign oil.” Sorry, the two aren’t equivalent fuels … and if you want to replace transportation oil with natural gas, there’s a heavy price to pay. As Natural Gas Vehicles for America has pointed out, converting an existing new vehicle from gasoline-powered to natural gas-powered costs an average of $12,000 to $18,000per car. Multiply that by the 194 million or so light-duty vehicles the Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimated were on US roads in 2009, and you get a price-tag of $2.3 to 3.5 trillion. Yeah, that’ll happen.

All we can say is, considering coverage like this, it’s impressive that so many of the article’s commenters cried foul. As one appropriately responded, “And the US will colonize Mars by 2040.”