Oil and Accuracy Don’t Mix
The public owes much of its knowledge about the environment to journalists on the green beat — but what happens when those journalists get it systematically wrong? That’s what has happened with reporting on Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to a new study funded by the U.S. EPA and published in the journal Annual Reviews: Energy and the Environment. The study analyzed 35 news reports on the Arctic Refuge published or broadcast between December 2000 and September 2001; it found that, on average, the reports overstated the amount of economically recoverable oil in the refuge by roughly 300 percent. The source of the misinformation was a high-end estimate of 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil, made by the U.S. Geological Service in 1998. The actual range of economically recoverable oil, according to the EPA’s study, is between zero and 5.6 billion barrels. Kudos to Newsweek for publishing the only article included in the study that mentioned the possibility of recovering zero oil from the refuge, whose sensitive ecology would be disrupted by energy extraction.