After watching the national news from mainline outlets (e.g., ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC) during the past couple of years, I noticed that some energy related news topics are frequently treated superficially. Here are 10 topics that the media has under emphasized and possible reasons why (in italics).
1. Gluttonous Domestic Oil Consumption: The United States consumes 5 billion barrels of oil per year based on the sum of domestic production and imports. The current U.S. oil reserve is 20.6 billion barrels (CIA Fact Book 2011) and if not replaced with newly produced oil, the U.S. reserves would last slightly more than 4 years at the rate of withdrawing 6 billion barrels per year if withdrawal from domestic reserves were the only option for obtaining oil.
Media issue: These facts counter the American Petroleum Institute (API) position that all is well. Note the frequent up beat TV ads placed by the API. Why would the media want to jeopardize their revenue stream from API ads by annoying that organization with disturbing straight talk?
2. Fantasy of Reducing Gluttonous Oil Consumption: There are 137M vehicles in the United States that are powered by internal combustion engines. It would take about 15 -20 years to totally change over that fleet and power them with something other than gasoline or diesel, assuming that “something” could be scalable, sustainable, environmentally friendly, reasonably priced and available now.
Media issue: Oil production, distribution and refinery companies would oppose this change by lobbying. (See item 7). Why would the media want to subject themselves to lobby pressure when these companies run media ads?
3. Delusion of Unlimited Oil: Fossil fuels won’t last forever. What happens after Peak Oil? What are the prospects for national survival?
Media issue: Why would the media want to detract from the 2016 presidential election chatter with dire reality talk? Let our grandchildren worry about declining oil.
4. Propping Up U.S. Debt with Imported Oil: Oil is traded in U.S. dollars. Since the U.S. imports a lot of oil paid for in dollars, that money would accumulate in oil exporting countries. Rather than trying to sell these dollars on the open market with a loss of value (i.e., more supply than demand that way), these oil-exporting countries buy U.S. bonds. To a certain degree, it is in the interest of the U.S. to import a lot of oil so that oil-exporting countries fund the U.S. deficit. However, this will cease to be a “solution” to the U.S. debt problem when oil is traded in other currencies. Oil exporting countries will no longer have to buy U.S. bonds. How will the U.S. government “finesse” the debt problem then?
Media issue: In some cases, the media does not do their homework. Perhaps this is one of those instances and is regrettable. If other countries stop buying U.S. debt, the “full faith and credit” of the United States will be questioned.
5. Syrian Civil War Dead Don’t Matter, Only Oil Counts: The west helped Libyan rebels because that country has about 45 billion barrels of oil in reserve. Since Syria has only 2.5 billion barrels in reserve, it is not worth supporting the rebels even though the Syrian death toll now is at least 70,000. The global price of oil would not be seriously affected by the absence of Syrian oil. However, that would not be true for Libyan oil. To the best of my knowledge, the mainline media almost never discusses oil in relation to western intervention of Libya and Syria.
Media issue: Perhaps the media, and the public for that matter, do not want to face the fact that access to oil can be a basis for foreign policy decisions.
6. Lockerbie Bomber Trumps UK Justice: The UK released the Lockerbie bomber from jail far too prematurely because that nation has declining oil reserves in the North Sea and needs Libyan oil. The oil in question would have been obtained through leases granted to BP for drilling in areas owned by Libya.
Media issue: Please see italics part of item 5. Shrinking oil assets can soften one’s attitude about terrorists.
7. Buying Congress by U.S. Oil & Gas Companies: During 2012 the oil and gas lobby spent $138M. What did they get for their money?
Media issue: Maybe the media prefers to avoid entangling itself with political activism by declaring that the Congress is for sale.
8. Rolling the Dice with Nuclear Plant Safety: Some U.S. nuclear plants were given a 20-year extension because the owners don’t want to pay for expensive decommissioning and rebuilding. Plant owners and the Nuclear Regulatory Council (NRC) will keep their fingers crossed and hope nothing bad happens. Opposition to license extensions would be countered by lobbying (See item 7).
Media issue: The media is not serving the public interest by avoiding the fact that nuclear safety is less important than saving money for the nuclear plant industry. Maybe the media would prefer to avoid nuclear lobbying confrontation on what could become a contentious safety issue.
9. U.S. Exports versus Home Heating Oil and Gasoline Prices: The price of home heating oil and gasoline is partly explained because these products are exported in ever increasing amounts during the past several years. Homeowners, who heat with oil, and motorists, can be comforted with the notion that they are helping the U.S. trade balance with increased oil products at their expense.
Media issue: Oil companies spend considerable money on media ads. Why should the media want to aggravate this client with talk about petroleum product exports?
10. Climate Changes While Congress and Corporations Stay the Course: Congress is too busy fund raising for the next election to bother with climate change. Most U.S. corporations are not focused on this matter because they have little interest in anything that does not create shareholder value at the end of the current quarter.
Media issue: The media revenue stream is enormously enhanced by ever increasing Congressional and presidential fundraising that flows into media ads. Once again, why annoy the customer?