Oil Drilling in Environmentally Sensitive Areas: The Role of the Media

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September 2008, Mark Weisbrot and Nichole Szembrot

This paper examines television news coverage of proposed drilling for oil in environmentally sensitive zones in the United States. It finds that these broadcasts almost completely ignored data, and conclusions, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA finds that the benefits from such drilling would be too small to have a significant effect on the price of oil. There is no legitimate reason for this omission in the media. Just as economic reporting regularly uses data (unemployment, inflation, GDP, trade) from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, or Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporting on energy relies on data from the EIA.

The omission of the relevant data from this recent reporting may have contributed to the widespread public misunderstanding of this issue, with polls showing 51 percent of respondents believing that "federal laws that prohibit increased drilling for oil offshore or in wilderness areas" were a “major cause of the recent increase in gasoline prices.”

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