More reaction to the hit pieces on North Dakota regulation of the oil industry

There is an old explanation that the best learning you will get about news coverage is when you watch media sources report on a topic for which you have deep knowledge.

It has been quite sobering to occasionally read a story where I can compare my knowledge gained from education and experience to what a reporter explains. In some situations, it is so easily to identify biases, slanted explanations, and sloppy reporting.

On the other hand, I’ve also learned from following the deworming valuation issue in the nonprofit community that sometimes reporters have an incredible depth of accurate knowledge, report accurately, and don’t even give the full range of damaging information they have gathered.

I’ve learned a lot about energy in the last four years. Am still quite new to the field, but finally know enough to carefully evaluate what I read.

That of course leads me to the hit pieces from the New York Times against state regulation of energy development, previously discussed here.

More on the first of two stories from the New York Times…

11/23 – Say Anything Blog – About that New York Times “Downside of the Boom” Story and 11/24 – – The dark side of the boom – isn’t so dark

Rob Port provides more background on the agenda-laded-editorial-masquerading-as-objective-reporting article by the New York Times.

Mr. Port provides some inside-baseball info that the NYT article relied on multiple interviews with the 2012 defeated gubernatorial candidate who is from the party that usually looses the public arguments on making state regulation more heavy-handed. NYT didn’t mention they used that pol as a source.  It obviously isn’t required to disclose all, or any, sources for an article, so not mentioning that in the original article is perfectly fine. Like I said, those are subtle concepts only of interest to those who dive deep into energy issues.

The post at SayAnythingBlog now reports the NYT asked for a correction on claiming the reporters were escorted around the Bakken by the defeated pol. The NYT confirms they met several times with her but did so outside the Bakken. Drop one phrase and the SAB article is correct: the NYT reporters had undisclosed guidance from a pol whose agenda matches theirs. That is helpful to understand the slant of the article.

Mr. Port says the sitting governor didn’t make time to meet with the reporters.

He also explains more on the attitude in the state.

The economic environment, for at least a hundred years, has been farming when you own your own spread and have to figure things out for yourself. That creates a different political environment than when most of the jobs in the state consist of factory work where you wait for the boss man to tell you color paint to use next and when to take a bathroom break.

Two paragraphs explain the overwhelming attitude in the state:

This state has always been dependent, but unlike other industry-heavy states in places like the so-called “rust belt,” North Dakotans have traditionally owned their own industry. Rather than citizens laboring for factory owners, North Dakota’s history is made up of farmers and ranchers laboring for themselves. These are people who are generally skeptical of the government telling them how to go about their business.

From those deep agricultural roots has grown a preference for a collaborative sort of approach to regulation. While some activists might recoil in horror that North Dakota regulators might go easy on fines for an energy company that responds quickly to cleaning up a spill (e.g. the Tesoro pipeline spill in Tioga), I think North Dakotans see it as common sense. The goal, after all, clean up and prevent future problems.

In running my accounting firm for a dozen years, I’ve routinely seen the radical change in my thought process compared to when I was just a staffer in a large firm. Ownership and responsibility changes attitude in ways you cannot imagine.

The alternative approach of the heavy hand of regulation is quite visible if you live in a state where the overwhelming attitude is only the government can figure things out. In my practice of public accounting in California, there are explicit rules for how I back up my audit workpapers and the size font (i.e. pitch) I must use when making certain disclosures to clients. The consensus in my state is that CPAs aren’t able to figure out those issues for themselves.

Mr. Port provides an analogy.

In terms of making the streets safer for citizens, how do you measure success?

Is success in the battle against crime measured in the number of arrests made by the police?

Or is success measured by crime actually going down?

Using that analogy, the NYT reporters’ worldview is that environmental safety is measured by the number and size of fines levied by the regulators. People in North Dakota measure environmental safety by the number of accidents and how quickly they get cleaned up. The worldview you choose determines how harsh regulators should be.

Mr. Port points out the issues covered are the same stuff that has been said over and over.

Good point. The Tioga leak is a year old and has been covered extensively.

Part 2 is out. As I have time, I’ll discuss the even more slanted article.

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