Venezuela Seizes U.S. Firm's Oil Rigs; AP Story Headlines Mislead

The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro has put the country back into the expropriration business, seizing two oil rigs owned by Houston-based Superior Energy Services.

Two different Friday headlines at Associated Press stories about the seizures, one at the AP's national site and the other at the Washington Post, appeared designed more to mislead than to inform.


At the AP's national site, the headline was "VENEZUELA'S GOVERNMENT SEIZES US-OWNED OIL RIGS." Uh, no. They're owned, or were owned, by a private company. The report by Joshua Goodman did not indicate that there has been a U.S. government reaction of any kind.

At the Washington Post, the headline at a shorter version of the story was even worse: "Venezuela seizes US-owned oil rigs in dispute over unpaid bills." Most people who only read WaPo's headline would believe that Venezuela is the creditor in this situation. Not so. The longer AP report said that "the state oil monopoly was months behind on payments."

Here a few excerpts from the longer AP report (bolds are mine):

Venezuela has quietly seized control of two oil rigs owned by a unit of Houston-based Superior Energy Services after the company shut them down because the state oil monopoly was months behind on payments.

The seizure took place Thursday after a judge in the state of Anzoategui, accompanied by four members of the local police and national guard, entered a Superior depot and ordered it to hand over control of two specialized rigs to an affiliate of PDVSA, the state-owned oil producer.

PDVSA justified the equipment's expropriation, calling it essential to the South American nation's development and welfare, according to a court order obtained by The Associated Press. Company workers were instructed to load the rigs, known as snubbing units and used to repair damaged casing, onto trucks to be deployed at "critical wells" elsewhere, according to the document.

"It was like a thief breaking into your house, asking for the keys to the safe and then expecting you to help carry it away," Jesus Centeno, local operations manager for Superior in the city of Anaco, said by phone. "Their argument was that we were practically sabotaging national production."

... Oil companies are weary of working with PDVSA, which has accumulated huge debts to service contractors on whom it depends to develop the world's largest proven oil reserves.

Centeno said Superior stopped servicing PDVSA in July after negotiations broke down over millions of dollars in unpaid bills stretching back to December. Removal of the equipment will take a few days, so Superior is also feeding and sheltering the police officers and PDVSA crew on site, he said.

I would have been tempted not to be as nice as the Superior people were. Of course, the police have guns, and the Superior people probably don't — or if they do, they're not as heavily armed, and don't have an army backing them up.

If AP and WaPo had really been interested in effectively communicating the truth in their respective headlines, the one I'm using here ("Venezuela Seizes U.S. Firm's Oil Rigs") would have worked fine. It seems that the only reason they didn't use a headline which communicated the essence of the situation is because, well, they really didn't want to communicate the essence of the situation.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.