The last bastion of intelligent and balanced journalism in this country is apparently now the lost bastion: on Morning Edition last Wednesday, NPR ran a piece on the oil bidness that was a travesty of journalism. The piece by John Ydstie “reported” on the “huge boom” in US oil and natural gas production and claimed — not by quoting an idiot, but by making the idiotic statement with no attribution or qualification — that it “could help the nation reach the elusive goal of energy independence.” That was the lede sentence, and things went downhill from there.
If we could just agree on the meaning of a few key words and numbers — and I am not at all sure we can — let’s understand what “energy independence” means: it means not depending on any other country for oil and gas. At the moment, we burn about 20 million barrels of oil every day (according to the CIA) and we import 60% of it, or about 12 million barrels every day (up from 30% in the 1980s, according to quoteoil.com ). American oil wells produce almost 10 million barrels per day.
The arithmetic is not going to line up exactly because we export oil, we store it up, and we sometimes don’t tell each other the truth. But the numbers make it clear that energy independence would involve doubling US production to about 20 million barrels per day, and keeping it there. NPR’s Ydstie says, thanks to the “huge boom” in oil and gas production (it has gone up by two million barrels per day since 2005) the goal is close:
“Energy self-sufficiency is now in sight,” says energy economist Phil Verleger. He believes that within a decade, the U.S. will no longer need to import crude oil and will be a natural gas exporter.
Wow. Production doubled in 10 years. This in a country whose oil production has been declining since 1970 until the last few years. Yes, despite the discovery of the Alaskan oilfields that provided a brief bump, which, just like the current shale-fracking bump will prove, with perspective, to be akin to trying to save yourself in a falling elevator by jumping off the floor at the moment of impact. Nice try.
Instead of the laughter that should have greeted this outlandish sighting of energy independence, the NPR report goes on to quote, uncritically, yet another delusional academic, and an oil-industry shill to say that yes, indeed we are almost there. At the very end of the piece a “skeptic” is brought on stage, briefly, to mumble something incomprehensible about the environment and get out of the way.
This piece would have fit seamlessly on Fox News or in the Wall Street Journal, but for NPR to air it is sad news indeed for those of us who turn to it for sanity in an increasingly deranged media world. If Ydstie had checked — not necessarily with any impartial source of information on the real world, but with the Energy Information Administration, which acts largely as a cheerleader for US oil interests — it would have learned that their most optimistic outlook is that the US might find 12 million more barrels per day by 2025, and thus reduce imports by about half, to a mere 8 million barrels per day. That is far from energy independence.
And by rational standards the IEA outlook is hopelessly over-optimistic. It depends upon the shale-gas boom, which is already foundering, to expand exponentially until tens of thousands of new wells are gushing gas, while the shale-oil boom in North Dakota continues unabated and production from the Canadian tar sands triples. (Oddly, in these calculations of energy independence from foreign countries, Canada, where the tar sands are, is not a foreign country.) All these sacred cows of the oil bidness are skewered in a piece (“America’s Fossil Fuel Fever” by Michael T. Klare) in the current edition of The Nation.
None of these factors was even mentioned in the Ydstie report. All you can hear in it is the swish of oil-soaked pom-poms. Et tu, NPR?