Scare tactics and misinformation

Death and destruction -- and fear -- sells. It sells magazines and movies and news.

Because of this, our news sources have become sensationalistic. I catch news trailers that are downright scary. "Is poison lurking in your fridge? Tune in tonight."

Yikes! What if I eat it before the 10 p.m. news program starts?

The same thing has happened with media coverage of our petroleum industry. Scare tactics make for devoted listeners/watchers/readers -- but really, are we posting the news or misinforming (and scaring) our public?

Take yesterday's accident offshore Louisiana. I got word in the morning that an oil rig had exploded, ala Deepwater Horizon; and my heart sank.

No! Please don't say it's true -- I thought of our already embattled offshore industry, laid off because of the moratorium, still mourning the losses of the Deepwater Horizon crew. I thought of the book-throwing environmentalists who use fear and misinformation to enact change. I thought of the drilling moratorium, the Rally for Jobs campaign by the API, the Save US Jobs campaign by the AEA, the National Taxpayers Union's campaign to support domestic energy companies.

I can't tell a lie -- I also thought about my job as a petroleum writer.

Initial media reports coming out of the major sources were scary, really very frightening.

When I got wind of the story, there was no official report, so I dug a little, just as a good journalist should. I called multiple offices in the US Coast Guard until I found the right one. I asked my source there what was going on.

Thinking back, he never said "rig." He called the facility the "Vermillion 380," which I automatically connected as a block, not a rig. I asked him about it, but he wasn't sure. (Mind you, this was VERY early on...)

Right off, I knew the initial reports were wrong, and I posted what I knew about the accident, facility and company.

I called Mariner. I called the BOEM. I checked websites and waited for more information. I updated my site when I found out more.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that all offshore personnel were rescued and safe. I breathed another sigh of relief when I learned that there was no oil leaking into the Gulf.

I hoped that our media would quickly change it's tune -- stop connecting the Vermillion 380 accident with the Deepwater Horizon accident. Stop scaring our public into believing that offshore drilling is unsafe.

Yes, everyone wants to know that our waters are safe, but misinforming the public to win more readers or viewers is just wrong.

Even last night, when I watched the news about the Mariner accident, journalists continued to call the production platform a rig ... which is the word used to describe a drilling rig. "Rig" is not used in the industry to denote production facilities, and production facilities, for the most part, do not drill (although some do house drilling equipment or they may host a drilling rig via cantilever).

This morning, I was saddened by a statement released by the United Steelworkers supporting the fed's moratorium on drilling, connecting the Vermillion 380 production platform accident to a need to increase safety in offshore drilling.

Now, should our industry always strive to increase safety, protect the environment and strengthen ethics? Yes. HSES is such an important part of our industry, and it should and will remain so.

And I agree, our authorities really should make sure that our practices are safe. But are they doing that, or are they saving face? What's taking so long, and why have only four drilling permits been issued in the last four months (even in shallow waters)?

While images of a smoking production platform keeps people on the channel, what the media is not doing is informing its audience about the amount of petroleum the US consumes, how much we import, where we import it from, and what we'll have to do to support our society in the future -- and how much that will cost -- should oil and natural gas exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico get shut down.

.................................

Phaedra Friend Troy is the content director for PennEnergy.com, an all-energy website that provides oil and gas, power and infrastructure news, analysis, reports and more. Sign up for a free daily enewsletter today.


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