Since Oil Spill, Rising Gas Prices Linked to Obama Drilling Ban in Just 1% of Evening News Stories

On April 20, 2010, a horrific oil spill took place in the Gulf of Mexico on British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig. Since that day, gas prices have risen nearly $1-a-gallon to $3.83 per gallon. President Barack Obama's anti-oil policies, including a drilling moratorium are at least part of the reason for that dramatic spike. But you will rarely hear that from the mainstream media.

It certainly isn't the story the network evening news shows have told their viewers since the oil spill. Out of 280 oil price stories since the disastrous pill, just 1 percent (3 out of 280) mentioned any connection between Obama's anti-oil efforts, such as the drilling moratorium, and rapidly rising gas prices.

Instead of asking whether Obama's anti-oil policies could be increasing the cost of gas, the networks blamed other factors such as Mideast turmoil or the "money game" played by speculators. Certainly, the turmoil in Libya, Egypt and surrounding nations has increased worries about oil production and can influence the price. But the networks also should have looked for explanations much closer to home.

ABC "World News with Diane Sawyer" on March 8, 2011, even asked if the gas prices in the "stratosphere" were the result of "gas gouging." ABC's Matt Gutman reported that night, that the nation's most expensive and second most expensive gas stations hadn't posted their prices. He then declared, "Stations like this prey on unwitting travelers hoping to fill up their rental cars on the way to the airport."


After attacking those stations, Gutman admitted "This is technically not price gouging, a legal term which applies only during states of emergency." He told viewers: "In fact, stations can charge as much as they want," but then asserted that is wrong by quoting Mayor Buddy Dyer who said "We don't think this is right, we don't think people should be tricked into paying $2-a-gallon more for gas than they could half a mile down the road."

Of course stations can charge as much as they want, because no one is forced to buy gasoline from them. Consumers can just keep on driving to a station with a lower price. Gutman should have been inquiring about Obama's unwillingness to expand domestic oil production, rather than going on the seasonal media search for service station villains.

During the past year, Shell's former CEO John Hofmeister as well as politicians including Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., have cited Obama administration energy policies for rising gas prices.

Obama and Federal Regulations Strangling Oil Development?

Even though gas prices had bounced up and down and were on the decline in May 2010 after the oil spill, prices have shot up in the past year. Gasoline cost $2.73 per gallon when Obama instituted his sixth-month moratorium on deepwater and shallow drilling on May 30, 2010. Prices are now more than a dollar-a-gallon higher. Pump prices have more than doubled since Obama took office in January 2009.

"After two federal courts said the moratorium was illegal, the Obama administration instead moved to a de facto moratorium, by issuing no permits, while speeding up the permitting process for wind farms," The Heritage Foundation wrote back in December 2010.

Jeff McMahon, a blogger for Forbes, wrote on March 25 that although the administration has begun issuing permits again (five as of that time), those drilling permits weren't "completely new" as the government was claiming. The exploration in question had begun before the moratorium.

"Of 14 permits submitted for initial exploratory drilling in the Gulf-drilling that would be, in other words, new - one has been withdrawn for modification and 13 are listed as 'pending,'" McMahon said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also seeking to regulate the oil industry over greenhouse gas emissions, and the Bureau of Land Management under Obama appointee Ken Salazar "would issue new rules making it harder to develop natural resources on government-owned land," according to Heritage.

That's not all. On March 15, 2011, American Petroleum Institute (API) released a press release criticizing the administration for new environmental hurdles to a pipeline that would transport crude from Canadian oil sands.

"This much-studied and much-needed pipeline would provide a critical link to our largest energy supplier, Canada, and its vast resources of nearby and available crude oil," Jack Gerard, API's president and CEO, said in the release. API also said the pipeline could mean 13,000 construction jobs in the U.S. and the project could lead to more than 340,000 U.S. jobs eventually.

The pipeline, called Keystone XL, has already been scrutinized for 32 months by 10 federal agencies and many state and local ones, yet "workers are sitting on the sideline waiting for the project to start," according to API.

Yet most of the network stories about gas prices didn't even ask if such policies were contributing to the rise. During the Bush years, the networks did the opposite - criticizing the president for gas prices, asking what the government should do and even entertaining far-left conspiracy theories about gas prices manipulation and election outcomes.

CBS's Couric wondered back in October 2006, "Is this [falling gas prices] an election year present from President Bush to fellow Republicans," while showing an image of bumper sticker that read: "GOP: Grand Oil Party." Following Couric's tease, Mason said: "Gas started going down just as the fall campaign started heating up. Coincidence? Some drivers don't think so."

Others in the media including CNN and Associated Press also ran stories about the supposed oil-price conspiracy.

Networks Blame Speculators, Rather than Obama

Rather than digging deep into those policies and explaining them for viewers, some of the network evening shows also predictably went looking for a business bad guy. NBC found an expert who said "I think you're seeing a tremendous amount of speculation in this market." But that story wasn't nearly as critical of speculation as a CBS segment by Anthony Mason and Katie Couric.

On March 23, 2011, Couric claimed they would "show you who is driving them [gas prices] up" before uttering the scary word "speculation."

The "Grim Reaper" of CBS, Anthony Mason, went on to report that oil futures trading is increasing the cost of oil, and therefore gasoline. He interviewed Michael Greenberger formerly of CFTC who said "It is accelerating the price of oil products, gasoline, heating oil, crude oil, and other energy products, for no good reason."

A bit later Mason said "The CTFC is now considering regulations to curb excessive speculation in oil, which more than ever before has become a money game."

Actually, according to Heritage there is a good reason. The Heritage Foundation explained how trading oil futures works on Feb. 23, 2011: "The oil futures market is just that, a futures market. The price-per-barrel spikes in oil this week have not affected the domestic market yet. In fact, former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister made the prediction in December 2010 that America would face $5/gallon gasoline by 2012, a full month before the revolution in Egypt began."

Hofmeister has previously criticized the Obama administration for the drilling moratorium and at the time of his $5 prediction blamed the "pure politics" keeping "us from drilling more of our resources" for the rising gas prices.

Things are traded based on speculation regarding future prices. With Obama's many policies designed to limit supply of domestic oil or government proposals to raise the gasoline tax, it's no wonder pump prices keep climbing.

One network story noticed that the weak U.S. dollar is also partially responsible for the increase in gas prices.

Jacking Up Prices is 'Green' Lining for President's Agenda

Obama has made green or alternative energy a top priority for his administration, at the expense of domestic fossil fuel sources of energy.

When expressing support of cap-and-trade policy, Obama admitted that "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." While Obama was talking about coal specifically, it is clear that his environmental agenda is more important to him than maintaining low-cost energy for consumers.

Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, shares those same extreme environmentalist leanings. In 2008, Chu said, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." With gas prices at $3.83-a-gallon America is well on the way.

Bloomberg Businessweek found that high gas prices actually have a "silver lining" from Obama's perspective because they make consumers more willing to accept his goals.

"Still, there's a silver lining in higher oil prices - or, rather, a green lining - for Obama, who has made clean energy one of his paramount causes. Rising fuel costs could go a long way toward advancing Obama's 'Win the Future' vision of an economy remade by green technologies, including electric vehicles, advanced batteries, wind and solar power, and high-speed trains," they wrote on March 27, 2011. The magazine noted specifically that electric cars become a much better deal when gas prices are high.

Gov. Barbour told NBC "Nightly News" on March 6 the Obama administration was causing prices to rise for that very reason saying, "This administration's policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive."

Methodology

The Business & Media Institute searched Nexis transcripts of ABC "World News," NBC "Nightly News" and CBS "Evening News" for the words "oil" and "price" from the day of the oil spill (April 20, 2010) through March 30, 2011. The searched yielded 280 stories, but only 60 of them mentioned gas prices at all. A meager 3 stories (1 percent of the 280 stories) cited Obama's drilling moratorium or any other Obama policy as a factor in the huge jump in gas prices.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.