Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hacktackular Part Two

This time, hering's editorial on DeFazio's sponsorship of a new bill aimed at oil and gas companies gets a much closer examination.


You can’t go wrong blaming the oil companies for the current troubles with fuel. Apparently that’s what Congressman Peter DeFazio figures.

Is that possibly because oil companies have something to do with it? Hering never considers the notion - which is the same thing he's accusing DeFazio of. Oops.

He claims that the oil industry is hoarding untapped oil resources by not bringing millions of acres of federal oil and gas leases into production. To hammer home that point, he and other Democrats have introduced a bill that would force lease holders to perform or give up their leases.

This hoarding claim sounds pretty far out. Actually, what it sounds like is an attempt to find somebody to blame so that the people won’t blame him and other Democratic opponents of off-shore drilling for the price of gas.

No it doesn't: It's a basic element of supply and demand. If one can artificially keep supply low, the price for a good will increase. See, for example, diamonds. Simply spending years and years doing studies is great cover for not drilling. Also of note? That oil companies are raking in record profits, which is counterintuitive. If things are so tight, with such consequences for people (think increased food and energy costs) how can companies justify adding pure profit? Shouldn't they - as good Americans - be willing to sacrifice along with the rest of us?

The jump that Hering makes - from DeFazio's bill to opposition to offshore drilling - is a pretty far-fetched one. Opposition to off-shore drilling is longstanding, and is due to environmental reasons (note that even the Republican Florida House Speaker, Marco Rubio, is opposed to off-shore drilling), not scarcity ones. Off-shore drilling, given current technology, is guaranteed to pollute beaches and kill wildlife. And, as Rubio notes, drilling off-shore won't produce in any substantial capacity for at least a decade. Does Hering mention any of this? Of course not - it's far too convenient to ignore any contrary evidence.

DeFazio points to a congressional committee’s report claiming that the millions of acres of unexploited federal oil and gas leases could sharply increase domestic supplies of those commodities and, of course, wipe out a big share of our energy imports. Well, you have to wonder, if that’s so and the dastardly oil companies won’t do their duty, why doesn’t the government just cancel those leases and hire someone to produce those copious amounts of oil and gas? [emphasis added]

Two words: Dick Cheney.

One more word: Arbusto.

A few more words: Oil and gas industry donations go overwhelmingly to Republicans. We're talking on the order of 70-80% in the last decade.

Hering would make a terrible, terrible detective. All this evidence, and he somehow missed it...let me put it another way: The Bush Administration and its members have a long and detailed history of supporting the oil industry to the detriment of the public good. There is no reason, in fact, to think they would do something like what Hering suggests.

The American Petroleum Institute has a more plausible explanation.

See my previous post for why this statement is absurd and completely incorrect.

The industry points out that companies pay lots of money — “billions” in the API talking points — for the right to explore on federal land.

OK - given this, the proper question to ask is this: Do companies stand to make more by paying these billions and then securing supply? And yes, that makes sense - it's called an investment. What do you think advertising is? How about working the stock market by buying and then simply holding on to a resource or stock, just because doing so affects the value of other existing holdings?

Also, he admits to using API talking points. How about some original research? How about some kind of independent source instead of the industry trade group?

I'm really tired of the media equating the most powerful source with the most legitimate voice.

According to the institute, in many cases the so-called idle leases are not truly idle. “They are under geologic evaluation or in development and could be an important source of domestic supply.”

This is completely irrelevant - Hering is just implying DeFazio does not take that into account. In fact, as DeFazio's website makes clear:

Oil and gas companies, however, are not required to demonstrate diligent development. Because of this, oil and gas companies have been allowed to stockpile leases in a non-producing status, while leaving millions of acres of leased land untouched. H.R. 6251 directs the Secretary of the Interior to define what constitutes diligent development for oil and gas leases.

DeFazio evens allows for the possibility that the definition of "diligent development" will still allow oil companies to drag their feet on moving towards production, this continuing to keep supply artificially low.

Heck, even the text of the bill just asks for a good-faith effort.

In case you thought I was done with Hering, I'm not:

Exploring for oil, though, is a chancy proposition met by failure more often than success. Remember the oil company trucks that crawled around the mid-valley some 30 years ago, thumping the ground in a fruitless hunt for oil or gas-bearing strata deep underground?

No, Hasso. The answer is no. No one remembers that but you. Also? No one cares. Why is this even in the editorial? It's irrelevant trivia - so someone unsuccessfully looked for oil in the mid-valley? So what? How does that even relate to the issue at hand, much less prove any kind of point?

The industry invokes common sense: “If the company finds resources in commercial quantities, it will produce the lease.”

Since Hering is so free-market, I can only assume even he doesn't believe that, and is therefore trying to feed the rubes a line. It's far more 'common sense' to manipulate supply to earn more money than it is to develop every known field as fast as possible.

I have to give it to Hering, though: He has a way of reducing everything into cliches that sound good as long as you don't think about them too much.

But often there are delays, which can be 10 years or more, for environmental and engineering studies, permits, installing platforms and other gear, not to mention litigation and regulatory disputes.

Such delays are accounted for in the DeFazio bill through the use of the "good faith effort" language. Either Hering didn't read it (it's less than one page long) or he ignored it, which makes him something of a liar by omission. I don't really care which it is - neither should be acceptable behavior for an editor.

The industry points out something else: Two-thirds of federal lands and 85 percent of the continental shelf are off-limits or face severe restrictions, and there’s no way to tell if there’s any oil or gas there because exploration has not been allowed.

Mayhap there is a reason for this? Reading Hering, you would never know.

As long as we must rely on fossil fuels to keep our economy going, we ought to develop everything we can.

Like I noted above, cliches that sound good until you think about them. What's the 'argument' he's making here? That we should burn oil as fast as possible. That he has managed to find a way to express that sentiment and still sound sane is a testament to his abilities as a writer and rhetorician. That it's an idiotic sentiment is, apparently, not much of a concern for him.

It sounds positively stupid and selfish at the same time to urge the Saudis to produce more oil while we refuse to look for oil even in places where we think we have some.

Um, no. It sounds like we give half a shit about our environment - and are perfectly willing to be hypocrites. (Also, it might sound like drilling oil in a desert doesn't harm the local environment to near the same degree, but I could be wrong.)

This has to be one of the worst editorials I have ever read in terms of total willingness to shill for private industry - and willingness lie and mislead one's readers to do it. I know Lee has a reputation as a conservative company, but this should really be beyond the pale. If there's even a shred of interest left in working for public enlightenment and the public good, the Democrat-Herald will issue a retraction and an apology and start having someone else pen the editorials.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.