The editorial boards of two newspapers owned by oil tycoon Philip Anschutz re-endorsed the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline project days after Nebraska's Governor approved a new route for the pipeline, but neither paper acknowledged the continued environmental danger of the project and both exaggerated the project's potential for job creation and consumer benefits.
The editorial boards of the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Oklahoman claimed that the Obama administration should approve the pipeline now that TransCanada -- the corporation seeking to build the pipeline -- has rerouted the project because it won't have a negative environmental impact. But in fact, the risk of a spill over environmentally sensitive areas remains. Keystone XL will carry tar sands oil, which is potentially more corrosive and difficult to clean up than regular crude oil, according NPR. The existing Keystone pipeline has had 14 spills, and the new route will still cross a large aquifer and, according to some groups, will still cross the environmentally sensitive sandy soil around the Sandhills.
Despite these issues, The Oklahoman editorial claimed that "U.S. customers will get the benefit" if the pipeline is built. However, the pipeline will not lower gasoline prices for consumers any noticeable amount, and some experts believe it could raise gas prices for consumers in the Midwest. Much of the oil, after being transported over American soil, will be shipped overseas.
And while The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial claimed the pipeline could create "179,000 American jobs" by 2035, these numbers are wildly inflated. That figure actually represents 179,000 "person-years of employment" -- a job for one person for one year -- and comes from an analysis funded by TransCanada that independent analysts have called "dead wrong," "meaningless," and "flawed and poorly documented." According to a Washington Post article, TransCanada admitted that the project would only create around 6,500 construction jobs for two years. Independent analyses have found even less job creation, with one study by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute finding that the pipeline would create as few as fifty permanent U.S. jobs.
Editorial bias in the Gazette and Oklahoman isn't surprising -- both papers are owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz. It's hard to take Anschutz's papers seriously given their distortions of the benefits oil and gas drilling, their dismissal of the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, and their failure to acknowledge the dangers of climate change.
The Oklahoman relied on the "absence of compelling evidence" and the comments of a single geologist to conclude that the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma's history was not tied to fracking, despite mounting evidence that indicates otherwise. In doing so, the paper dismissed mounting evidence linking underground injection of wastewater to earthquakes at large, continuing its attempt to cast doubt on science and shut down policy debates that could affect the paper's owner, billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.
In a December 11 editorial, The Oklahoman dismissed the links between oil and gas exploration and earthquakes by saying "unless proven otherwise," any assumption of what caused the earthquake "should go to nature" instead of being attributed to mankind. From The Oklahoman editorial (emphasis added):
Ties go to the runner in baseball. Assumptions about nature, when apparently tied, should go to nature. Unless proven otherwise.
This is the heart of the discussion on whether the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history was manmade rather than an act of nature. Some believe that oil and gas exploration activity in the area of the epicenter caused the quake. That's an assumption, as is the belief that earthquakes are natural phenomena always caused by nature and never by mankind.
We subscribe to the view that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature. But we live in a time when science-based policymaking is highly politicized and a portion of mankind dislikes humanity to the point of suspecting that many "natural" events (such as hurricanes) are the unnatural result of people.
The editorial points to one seismologist, Oklahoma Geological Survey's Austin Holland, who said, "until you can prove that it's not a natural earthquake, you should assume it's a natural earthquake." However, experts believe that the November 2011 earthquake and other events in Oklahoma -- such as the drastic increase from six earthquakes between 2000 and 2008 to 850 earthquakes between January 2010 and March 2011 in Oklahoma County -- point to a link between fracking-related activites, specifically wastewater injection, and seismic activity. Similar links have also been made in Dallas, Texas , Ohio, and Arkansas. Scientists from the United States Geological Survey also presented a report in April that found that "seismicity rate changes" in Arkansas and Oklahoma "are almost certainly manmade," although it remains unclear if the changes were related specifically to fracking or to the rate of oil and gas production.
Even shale development corporations have voiced their concerns that their activities may have contributed to seismic activity. Cuadrilla Resources, the only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas, admitted in a report that earthquakes near Blackpool, England were likely caused by their work in the area. From the Huffington Post:
The only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale rock said Wednesday that the controversial technique probably did trigger earth tremors in April and May.
But a report commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources, which is drilling for gas in the area outside the northwestern English coastal resort town of Blackpool, cautioned that the tremors, measuring 1.9 and 2.8 on the Richter scale - were due to an unusual combination of geology and operations and were unlikely to happen again.
The Oklahoman editorial is the second editorial in two weeks to criticize the use of science in policy making. On November 28, the paper told policymakers to ignore science because it could hurt jobs and increase economic hardship "in the name of global warming theories" its editors don't believe are valid. In fact, since the paper was purchased by oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz, whose company sued a town that banned fracking, the paper has dismissed the links between fracking and groundwater contamination and written two previous editorials attacking the connection between fracking-related activities and seismic activity.
Despite the mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction could be harmful to our planet, The Oklahoman continues to disregard science and shut down any debate that might hurt its owner's financial interests.
Philip Anschutz, billionaire oil baron-turned-media mogul, has acquired the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding the Colorado daily to a growing stable of Anschutz-controlled newspapers that includes the largest newspaper in the neighboring state of Oklahoma; and if the past is any indication, the future objectivity of the Gazette's content, especially as it pertains to energy issues, is in considerable peril.
Since being acquired by Anschutz in September 2011, The Oklahoman, especially its editorial page, has consistently advocated for energy policy positions that would line its owner's pockets. The Gazette looks poised to follow suit -- other than the goal of providing content across a variety of technological platforms, the only specific changes Anschutz has promised (through his media company Clarity Media Group) constitute a vast expansion of the paper's opinion pages, with no mention of additional resources needed to report the news.
From the Gazette's editorial board (emphasis added):
In coming weeks, expect to see exciting changes. Clarity executives plan to add pages and personnel. The opinion section will expand from one page to at least two on weekdays, and possibly more on Sundays. We will add new columnists and additional editorials. Readers should begin seeing changes very soon.
Mostly, we will work with more dedication than ever to serve our community with news and information our customers want and need. We plan to inform customers in print and on all platforms, ranging from smartphones, to tablets, to laptops and all other information mediums the public chooses to embrace today and into the future. We will inform, persuade and entertain. We will serve as a watchdog, guarding liberty and the interests of our community.
Given Colorado's importance as a (re-)emerging source of oil shale and natural gas, and given Anschutz's use of The Oklahoman's opinion pages to advocate for open drilling policies and against carbon controls, Gazette readers can likely expect a similar kind of distorted coverage and commentary. (In late November, for example, The Oklahoman's editors expressed skepticism about global warming and warned against "mixing science" with politics).
And the Gazette's current editors didn't wrap up their announcement with reassurances that their coverage would remain independent and uninfluenced by ownership -- just the opposite, in fact:
Anschutz has been successful in business, ranking high on the Forbes 400 for decades, because he works to improve the world he lives in.
We at The Gazette plan to help him expand this important role.
Of course, the Forbes 400 doesn't rank people on their contributions to society -- it's a "definitive ranking of the nation's super rich." Presumably, Anschutz has remained on the list for decades because he's skilled at making money, and he now has the Gazette to help him make even more.
The Oklahoman advocated for the separation of science and policy in its editorial pages, expressing serious misgivings about the veracity of manmade climate change and warning that we shouldn't "mi[x] science" with politics. The newspaper is Oklahoma's largest source of printed news and is owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.
In a November 28 editorial headlined "Mixing science, politics can result in bad policy," The Oklahoman put scare quotes around the word "science" when discussing global warming and argued that, because the science of climate change isn't "settled," it may as well be ignored by policymakers (emphasis added):
[S]cientific evidence for global warming remains muddled at best. The United Kingdom-based Daily Mail recently noted data compiled from more than 3,000 measuring points on land and sea showed the world stopped getting warmer nearly 16 years ago. Before that, temperatures rose from 1980 to 1996, but had been stable or declined for the 40 years prior to that period. Some scientists believe those temperature changes are a product of natural variability and non-manmade causes. Definitive proof remains elusive for all sides.
Those who claim science is "settled" don't understand science. In 1854, cholera was tied to contaminated water. It took nearly 30 years before that explanation was accepted over theories blaming bad vapors for outbreaks.
When politics taints science more than science improves and informs policy, the results can be distressing. Should we wipe out countless jobs and increase economic hardship for families in the name of global warming theories that could ultimately prove no more valid than the cholera-vapors link?
Skeptical Science, a website dedicated to "explain[ing] what peer reviewed science has to say about global warming," responded to arguments by climate change skeptics who claim, like The Oklahoman, that the science isn't "settled," and is therefore unworthy of consideration by policymakers and politicians:
No science is ever "settled"; science deals in probabilities, not certainties. When the probability of something approaches 100%, then we can regard the science, colloquially, as "settled".
Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties. Science comes to tentative conclusions based on the balance of evidence. The more independent lines of evidence are found to support a scientific theory, the closer it is likely to be to the truth. Just because some details are still not well understood should not cast into doubt our understanding of the big picture: humans are causing global warming.
In most aspects of our lives, we think it rational to make decisions based on incomplete information. We will take out insurance when there is even a slight probability that we will need it. Why should our planet's climate be any different?
The National Research Council (NRC) echoed these sentiments in a climate change report, stating that the occurrence of manmade global warming was "so thoroughly examined and tested" that there is a "vanishingly small" likelihood that the findings will be overturned. The report also reiterated the point that certain scientific conclusions have been more thoroughly verified than others, which should have been obvious to editors at The Oklahoman, who dubiously compared modern studies on climate change to 19th century theories about cholera outbreaks. From the NRC report (emphasis added):
From a philosophical perspective, science never proves anything--in the manner that mathematics or other formal logical systems prove things--because science is fundamentally based on observations. Any scientific theory is thus, in principle, subject to being refined or overturned by new observations. In practical terms, however, scientific uncertainties are not all the same. Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities. In other cases, particularly for matters that are at the leading edge of active research, uncertainties may be substantial and important. In these cases, care must be taken not to draw stronger conclusions than warranted by the available evidence.
The Oklahoman published its editorial just one week after the Washington Examiner (also owned by Anschutz) published an op-ed arguing that cutting carbon emissions is futile, raising ethical questions about the papers' tendencies to oppose any policies that would harm their owner's pocketbook.
And The Oklahoman's editorial serves as yet another piece of evidence that conservative voices will attack any peer-reviewed science that doesn't align with their political agenda. Earlier this year, a study by the American Sociological Association looked at "trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010." They found that "conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest," a finding that seemed to confirm the theories expounded by Chris Mooney in his 2005 book The Republican War on Science -- that the conservative movement has developed a uniquely adversarial relationship with scientific conclusions. The Oklahoman's "Mixing science, politics can result in bad policy" is a clear illustration of this phenomenon.
Over the weekend, The Oklahoman introduced the first installment of a two-part series on "energy independence" that overwhelmingly focused on the oil and gas industry while failing to note its harmful effects on both the environment and public health. The reliance on oil industry sources is unsurprising given that the paper is owned by billionaire oil and gas tycoon Philip Anschutz.
The Oklahoman's straight news coverage of the controversial natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") has been slanted in favor of the process under the ownership of energy tycoon Philip Anschutz, who acquired the paper in September 2011. The paper's opinion page has been one-sided -- devoid of voices warning readers about the potential health risks and environmental dangers of loosely regulated fracking activities.
Terry Krepel, a senior web editor at Media Matters and founder and editor of ConWebWatch, has a great piece up at Huffington Post about how the Washington Examiner is driven by its right-wing tilt.
Here's just a taste:
In early February, Washington Examiner editor Stephen G. Smith gushed over his new chief political correspondent, Byron York, calling him "a prototype of the modern journalist, equally at home in print, on television and on the Web."
One word not uttered by Smith, however, was "conservative" -- as in the political orientation of York's former employer, the National Review. Indeed, York has regularly peddled conservative misinformation from his National Review perch.
York is one of the latest manifestations of the rightward skew of the Examiner, a free tabloid daily created four years ago when conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz took over a chain of suburban papers and refashioned them after the publication he owns in San Francisco -- an interesting move since Anschutz himself hasn't talked to the media in decades.
The Examiner has had a conservative skew from its inception, as exemplified by its early hiring of Bill Sammon, a former Washington Times staffer who penned several books laudatory of George W. Bush and his presidency even while serving as a White House correspondent. Sammon moved last year to Fox News, but he left no ideological vacuum behind.
Ostensible "news" positions at the Examiner have become increasingly stocked with opinion-minded right-wingers -- for instance, Matthew Sheffield, executive editor of the conservative blog NewsBusters, is managing editor of the Examiner's website, and Chris Stirewalt, who has been lauded for his "outspoken conservative perspective," is political editor.
Be sure to check out the entire piece.