Editorial hit piece on Bakken presented as front page reporting

The New York Times ran an entertaining hit piece on the entire Bakken oil field with particular focus on the intentionally lackadaisical enforcement effort from the state. I learned of the front page article from some complimentary twitter comments, from which I guessed this was a major attack before even reading the first paragraph.

Check out The Downside of the Boom.

As I’ve expanded the horizons of my reading over the last four years, I’ve learned how to see the slant on articles. It’s easy to pick up on agendas if you read carefully, watch the choice of words, and assess the point of view. The goal in this report from the NYT is oh so obvious.

Million Dollar Way’s read is the same:

It was clearly an editorial which will be used by movers and shakers in Washington to support their case that the environment is too important to leave it up to state regulators.

Having said that, I believe my point of view is just as visible – since I’m not a professional journalist, I don’t try to hide my worldview when writing about an issue on which I have an opinion. You may thus filter my comments and the NYT article as you wish.

On to the article…

At a simple level, the adjectives and adverbs are slanted. The oil service roads “slash” through the landscape. That description is in a caption for a photo showing a peaceful farm in the foreground, pump jacks on the hill at the horizon, and not a service road in sight. The farmer with those slashed wheat fields is likely depositing checks for twenty or fifty thousand dollars each month.

Leaks in pipelines which are under federal and not state supervision are the fault of the previously mentioned lackadaisical state regulators. Keep in mind a federal agency is responsible for most pipelines and all the big pipes.

The leak north of Tioga is discussed at length with a context suggesting it is representative of leaks in the state instead of the worst recent on-land spill in the U.S.  You could easily conclude those multiple photos of acres of land torn up for cleaning represent what should be done with all leaks. There aren’t any photos of a twenty barrel spill of contaminated water being cleaned up in a couple of hours.

The article does concede that the feds hadn’t inspected the Tesoro pipes since 2010. Tone of the article suggests we conclude the leaks are still the fault of the lackadaisical state oversight.

Except for one paragraph, the only cost of leaks that are discussed is fines from the state. You might think there weren’t any other costs from a spill.

Just one paragraph mentions that Tesoro will pay somewhere between $4M and $25M for cleanup in Tioga. The latest estimates I’ve seen suggest the cleanup cost will be around $11M.

I’ll make a wild guess it will go higher than that. The farmer will obviously be compensated for losing production of his land for a few years. There are other costs than what the cleanup company bills. Throwing in the $4M initial estimate lowers the apparent cost.

We are led to think that no other leak in the state ever created a cost to the driller. Oh, other than Continental having to bring in a couple of guys and a few tools to fix a blowout well, but there was no dollar amount attached to that little bity project (heavy dose of sarcasm intended).

Settling fines for a fraction (always 10%) of the levied amount is harshly discussed over and over and over again. Read the article and you will likely conclude that the state regulators rarely get serious about fines. No disconnect is visible between the overall focus of the article and the following two ideas:

  • the state’s goal of leaving the unpaid fines hanging over the head of small operators to provide motivation for thinly capitalized companies to get their act together on one hand, and
  • a small operator who failed thus leaving the state on the hook for a million dollar cleanup on the other hand.

Million Dollar Way chuckles at the story too:  Everything But The Sage Grouse … Oh, There It Is; The Times Even Threw In The Sage Grouse. The link to a separate article on Sage Grouses that are bothered by drilling is still linked at the bottom right corner.

Mr. Oksol suggests the Bakken must be an even bigger deal that we realized if the Times is hitting this hard.

I would like to see a major media outlet, other than one story from AP, write a 6,700 word article going after either the wind or solar industries as hard as this article went after the Bakken and state regulators.

Mr. Oksol followed up with another post: Musings on a Sunday Night – November 23, 2014. He concludes the NYT article is “bogus.” His six reasons:

  • had there been any truth to the article, The Dickinson Press would have been all over this issue six years ago, even before the boom began;
  • the article didn’t mention that back in 2010, state regulators and courts (and maybe even federal regulators, I forget) tried to shut down the entire Bakken because of six dead ducks;
  • the article did not mention that after almost 75 years of drilling for oil in North Dakota, no one has been able to find any evidence of any groundwater contamination — again, nada, zilch, zero;
  • the article did not mention that there have been no earthquakes in North Dakota — okay, there have been at least two; one back in 1909, and one back in 2012; it appears that extreme fracking turns the potential for large earthquakes into tremors so small that only US Navy submariners can pick them up on their sonar; not one North Dakota earthquake has ever resulted in a tsunami;
  • the Times kept mentioning “North Dakota” in the article, when in fact, about four counties (out of 53) are really doing much drilling; and,
  • the same newspaper, some years ago, said fracking for natural gas would never amount to anything, thereby losing all credibility except for the gullible.

He also mentions the differences in bird casualties in Bakken compared to the slice-and-dice industry:

It should be noted that whereas the wind industry has been given blanket immunity to kill an unlimited number of golden eagles, bald eagles, whooping cranes, there have been no reports — nada, zilch, zero — reports of any more ducks killed by the oil industry in the past four years, much less any other birds.


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