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GR Press speaks to Calvin Professor on BP oil disaster

May 10, 2010

In Monday’s edition of the Grand Rapids Press, there was an article about a Calvin Professor scheduled to give a talk on the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The headline of the story on page 3 read, “As oil spills, hope emerges.”

The story states that Gerry Van Kooten (Calvin Professor) is somewhat optimistic about the long-term outcome of the growing oil disaster caused by BP drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Van Kooten worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and because of that experience believes that nature is very “resilient.” Mother Nature is remarkably resilient in the end, but it may take decades to get there,” said Van Kooten.

An interesting observation, especially since this could end up being the worst oil spill ever recorded. Van Kooten goes on to say that it is key that the engineers keep the oil spill from reaching the shoreline, which he says will put more wildlife at risk.

The Press reporter does not question any of the assertions from Van Kooten, but they do cite the Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune who says, “We will be dealing with the impacts of BP’s drilling rig for decades to come.”

Van Kooten then tells the Press reporter that it would be “unrealistic to permanently halt offshore drilling.” That comment is followed up by a statement from the CEO of Grand Rapids-based Wolverine Gas & Oil Corp Sid Jansma. The oil & gas executive thinks “the people of the US will be the losers” if there is a ban on off shore drilling.

It seems quite amazing that the Press can pass this story off as journalism. First, even though they cite a Sierra Club spokesperson, there is no balance in this story, since the comment from the Sierra Club is not used to counter the comments made by Van Kooten or the oil industry executive. Second, the Press reporter does not provide any information to suggest that he verified any of the claims made by either Van Kooten or Sid Jansma.

Third, the Press did not provide full disclosure on Van Kooten. The Calvin Professor does teach geology, but he also worked as a petroleum geologist and oil and gas consultant in Alaska for two decades.

Fourth, the article provides no real context about the extent of the damage done so far from the BP oil spill. Such investigation was demonstrated in an interview conducted by Democracy Now with Riki Ott, a woman who has written two books on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ott talked about how the oil industry was not held accountable on regulations, how the spill will devastate eco-systems, potentially destroy the commercial fishing industry and have long-term economic ramifications. This kind of assessment differs greatly from the “optimism” of the Calvin Professor who spoke with the Press before giving a public lecture today.

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