Got a political agenda? At least be honest about it

January 20, 2015
By Lois Henry Bakersfield Californian

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of my media brethren.

They approach the oil industry with a great deal of skepticism and scrutiny. That’s exactly as it should be.

Meanwhile, however, environmental groups are given a pass. Even when they spread misinformation and outright lies. (More on that in a minute.)

This came to mind again recently after several news organizations jumped all over big oil for supposedly conspiring to fight unfavorable fuel regulations behind the skirts of grassroots organizations that were secretly funded by oil. It’s a practice known as astroturfing.

But in the case of one of the groups listed in recent news articles, Kern Citizens for Energy, there’s no secret playbook. It is very openly and proudly funded by local oil companies.

That’s something my media colleagues might have learned with a single phone call, or by looking up the organization on this new thing called “the Internet,” rather than simply following the script given to them by environmentalists.

“We’re not trying to hide anything or be cute,” said Tracy Leach, organizer of Kern Citizens for Energy. “We’re absolutely supported by the oil industry.”

She said the group was formed last year primarily to advocate for a streamlined permitting system for new oil and gas wells.

While Leach felt Kern Citizens for Energy might have a role in a larger conversation about oil and gas in California, the focus is entirely local at this point.

Which makes me wonder about the other groups listed as big oil stooges in those news stories.

Essentially, the stories said WSPA (Western States Petroleum Association) was secretly funding 16 dummy organizations to sway the public against new fuel regulations under cap and trade laws that would cut into oil industry profits.

It does remain to be seen how the new fuel regulations will affect pump prices. So I think it’s legitimate to involve consumers.


Even so, environmentalists were apoplectic that WSPA would engage in such campaigns. And their concerns were duly noted in several news stories.

Meanwhile, I didn’t see a single news story alerting the public that the Center for Biological Diversity was flat wrong in its alarming assertions that 3 billion gallons of oil field-produced water had been “illegally” injected into Kern County aquifers resulting in “contamination.”

That press release came out in October and was breathlessly reported by several news organizations.

The truth is none of that produced water was injected illegally. The oil companies that disposed of that water had permits.

Second, and more importantly, initial testing by the California State Water Resources Control Board found nearby water supplies were not affected by the injected oilfield water. Repeat: not affected.

A few of the sample wells had elevated levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates, which typically are not found in produced water from oil wells.

Even with those elevated levels, however, the water was not considered “contaminated.” Repeat: not contaminated.

But that did not deter the Center for Biological Diversity.

“While the current extent of contamination is cause for grave concern, the long-term threat posed by the unlawful wastewater disposal may be even more devastating,” the press release stated.

And just in case you weren’t hooked yet: “Benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals used in fracking fluid are routinely found in flowback water coming out of oil wells in California …”

Aha! The magic word — fracking.

This issue had zero to do with fracking. But nothing roils the blood and sparks headlines these days like the “F” word. So, what the heck, they threw that in too.

No one in the mainstream media called out the Center for Biological Diversity for this nonsense.

And, so, the misinformation was repeated last week in a Center for Biological Diversity press release that slammed the California Council on Science and Technology for the first part of a three-part study that inexplicably did not equate fracking with devil worship.

If that sounds flippant, I meant it.

The hysteria over fracking is ridiculous. Wells have been fracked (fractured) for nearly two generations in Kern County. I personally covered new fracking techniques when fields around Shafter were first being developed more than 20 years ago.

And … nothing. We’re still using (overusing, actually) our groundwater with no ill effects.

So what’s the real agenda here? To end oil production entirely in order to make renewables look more cost attractive?

If so, stop with the subterfuge and own it.

Talk about astroturfing.



Kern Citizens for Energy