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Energy Think Tank Expert unquestioned in Press story

March 7, 2011

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story headlined, “Dependence on Mideast oil costing U.S. dearly, expert says.

The article is a preview of a talk that will happen tonight at Aquinas College by Rayola Dougher, the senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Dougher makes the claim that gas prices are going up because of the political instability in the Middle East. Press reporter Heidi Fenton does not question this assertion, nor does she seek out another perspective on the matter.

On top of the unquestioning claims about increasing gas prices the article also promotes the API staffer’s position that the US should import more of the petroleum from Canada, particularly from the Alberta Tar Sands. “It could more than double and account for more than one-fourth of all the oil the U.S. will need in the future, Dougher said. In addition the oil expert said importing this oil would create jobs since the petroleum from the tar sands would need to be refined in Texas.

The Press reported missed a huge opportunity here to practice basic journalism and ask questions about the claims made by API. First, there is no background information on the American Petroleum Institute. Readers of the Press did not find out that API organized groups of “energy citizens” to rally against the proposed climate legislation in the US in 2009.

Secondly, there is no information in the Press story about the fact that API is fundamentally a lobbyist for Big Oil. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, API has spent between $4.5 million and $7.5 million on lobbying Congress in the past 3 years, spending $6,750,000 in 2010 alone.

Lastly, the Press article doesn’t tell readers anything about the Alberta Tar Sands project or the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that would send the tar sands petroleum all the way to Texas. It would be important for people to know that the majority of the pipelines for the tar sands project from Canada to the US are under the operation of Enbridge, the company responsible for the oil pipeline disaster in Michigan last year.

A report from Tar Sands Watch provides some excellent analysis of the human and environmental cost of the Alberta Tar Sands project. You can see from the map all of the interlocking pipelines that are part of the tar sands project.

According to one activist website, “The tar sands are already slated to be the cause of up to the second fastest rate of deforestation on the planet behind the Amazon Rainforest Basin. Currently approved projects will see 3 million barrels of tar sands mock crude produced daily by 2018; for each barrel of oil up to as high as five barrels of water are used.” This source goes on to say that, “The tar sands mining procedure releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production and is slated to become the single largest industrial contributor in North America to Climate Change.

In addition, most of the pipelines that will transport the tar sands petroleum to places like Texas will go through Indigenous territories, according to environmental writer Andrew Nikiforuk.

So, while the premise of the article – that the US is too dependent on Middle East oil may have a bit of truth to it – the Press reporter never questions the claims that importing oil from Canada will benefit the US or how it will negatively impact the environment.


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