Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Archive for the ‘Gulf of Mexico’ tag

What’s the Role of Media in Energy and other Complex Issues?

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Discussions like this have particularly importance in the last several weeks with all of us watching the response, or lack of, to the oil spill in the Gulf. It’s frustrating to see the various ideas, some with far too much complexity, 5000 feet below the sea’s surface, for us to assess critically, and others, like Obama’s elaborate directive to “plug the damn hole,” expressing our own grossly inadequate comprehension of the task at hand.

In the Enron case discussed below, the ramifications transcend energy and cross paths with the current discussions of Wall Street oversight and the government’s role in the financial industry. It’s easy for some to say that there should be increased regulation, but then when we learn that those responsible for watching financial industries, and the MMS, supposed to oversee off shore drilling, were surfing porn and doing drugs at their desks while their charges ran so terribly afoul, can we really trust that increased government intervention will help to solve the problems?

These are just two examples of countless discussions happening within industry and government, and played out in the media and the blogosphere, that are so important to our daily lives, our economies, our comforts, and yet often beyond the grasp of intelligent people who have not investigated the intricacies of our electricity grid, our transportation fuels, and the sources and end uses of these and other forms of power.

How can the media decide between the demand for accessbile, interesting stories, without dumbing down technical information or pandering to sensationalism?

Clearly there are different kinds of outlets that fall in different places along this continuum, but I’d very much like to hear what you think about the media’s role in this and other complex issues.

Enron Made Suckers of the Media

May 28, 2010

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider

Inveterate writer Walter Lippman said in 1925 that the “American press is the bible of democracy, the book in which a people determines its conduct.” He not only spoke of the ideals of the Founding Fathers but he lived them as well by providing “trustworthy” information to the American people.

While that sense of altruism is pervasive at many news organizations, it is often clouded by limited resources, tight deadlines and yes — a lack of interest in complicated subjects. Simply put, stories that require an understanding of economics are too complex for many journalists who instead flaunt stories with more allure. Charismatic leadership is more titillating than seemingly mundane corporate policies.


The extent of Enron’s complexity was unknown to all but those in its inner circle and its internal auditors. Still, the journalists covering Enron did fail. They helped provide the tools that Enron used to wheel and deal. As such, media organizations fell into the trap of believing in Enron’s invincibility, or that it could leverage its knowledge of markets and use that to profitably sell any commodity.


Why was the press not more skeptical earlier on? For sure, corporate accounting and finance are difficult subjects and not really the domains of the typical reporter. After all, Enron was able to dupe folks paid to know better, such as government regulators.


As more and more evidence has come out and given credence to reports of marketplace manipulation, journalists began receiving an increasing number of calls from people who explained how such exploitation occurred. And the volume of mail that each receives from those hurt financially by the deception has left an indelible impression. “In a democracy with a Free Press, it will eventually all come out,” one analyst says, although the damage in the interim can be ruinous.

The press, unfortunately, is often behind the curve. It’s a problem partly of its own making as many organizations are more intent on focusing on the sensational instead of matters of real substance.

Read the entire article here.

Shell CEO: Policy Impact Of Gulf Spill Yet To Be Seen

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It’s interesting to watch this debate unfold. Yes, I prefer to focus on the debate, rather than the potentially devastating ecological impacts of the spill itself. There’s enough bad news in the world.

When we see a car accident we don’t generally have the reaction that we shouldn’t drive cars anymore. We usually don’t even say we should drive less. If the driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, or had been drinking or driving recklessly, we’ll be reminded that those behaviors are irresponsible and we can learn from that.

Similarly, with literally thousands of off-shore oil rigs in operation, few of them creating significant ecological problems, hopefully we can focus the debate on these extremely deep water wells, and can ensure that the technology is in place to avoid spills like this in the future. If that technology isn’t available, then these deep water rigs are not worth the risks they pose.

MAY 4, 2010, 6:53 A.M. ET

   By Max Lin

SINGAPORE (Dow Jones)–The recent massive oil spill following an explosion that destroyed a deepwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico represents a pivotal moment for the entire oil industry, but it is too early to say whether it will have any impact on future U.S. policy, Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN) Chief Executive Peter Voser said Tuesday

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 4th, 2010 at 6:12 am