Fossil Fueled Problems: The (biased) Keystone XL Coverage

My involvement with the Keystone XL pipeline began around the same time the media started to cover the issue. I was arrested in front of the White House for protesting against the pipeline on August 26, 2011. Until the week before my arrest, I didn’t know much about what was going on. An oil pipeline? Aren’t those built, like, every day? It didn’t sound like that much of a big deal.

Turns out – as you might have guessed based on my decision to be arrested – my first impressions were really wrong. If you’ve been following the media coverage, you might be thinking that the pipeline is all about jobs. While jobs are certainly an important aspect of the whole issue, job claims have been greatly over-inflated while a lot of the most negative aspects of the pipeline have been neatly swept under the rug.

Media Matters has produced some great materials about the pipeline, but one of my favorite is the article, “Keystone XL: Five Stories Not Told.” While most outlets have been focused on whether or not the pipeline will provide employment or damage the Ogallala aquifer, TransCanada (the company building the pipeline) has been bullying landowners into signing over their property, reversing its positions on addressing ecological concerns, and importing (possible defective) steel for the pipeline.

And as the “zombie pipeline” rises once again, I wonder if this is why more people aren’t politically involved. Sometimes it feels like for every step forward, there are two (or three, or four) steps back. Protesters were arrested in Idaho. The Senate killed a KXL addition to the latest transportation bill. Yet, construction is starting in Texas, and President Obama has hardly addressed the greenhouse gas impacts of the tar sands (even when a new report shows that Washington, D.C. will be one of the cities most threatened by sea level rise).

Of course, there are bright spots, like this awesome article in Forbes.

Still, despite the long list of facts that support NOT building the pipeline, it’s become a huge political issue, with Congress wasting tons of time trying to force the President’s hand. How much of this do you think TransCanada has gotten away with because of the lack of factual coverage in the mainstream media? I’m willing to bet that it’s an awful lot.

I think it’s time we took a stand and start requesting that the media, both traditional and new, start reporting the facts. That means no more “unbiased” reporting, where even if there’s 99% consensus on an issue, the oppositional view is presented as an equally valid opinion shared by a large portion of the population. That means citing studies, doing investigative reporting, and refusing to rely on industry AND activist spokespeople for all information.

Thoughts? I’ll try and write an entire post on 21st century reporting in the near future. In the meantime, I’d be curious to know what you think about everything mentioned above.


Photo credit to Mr. Josh Lopez


See this article, too, and here’s a map of the pipeline — and for Big Oil money in Congress.

Some great links to anti-pipeline studies and reports:

Caroline Selle is an environmental activist convinced that small changes have big impacts and has been known to engage in minor battles over the thermostat. When she’s not griping about the lack of public transportation in southern Maryland, Caroline is writing about the human faces of environmental issues, lobbying in D.C., or studying the impacts of media rhetoric on public opinion. She is currently working on a book about the activism around the Keystone XL pipeline. Follow her on Twitter.


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