Recently, I’ve made a practice of cataloging mistakes and other oddities at Grist, a website which fancies itself a source of “independent green journalism.” In this fact-checking vein, I’d like to bring your attention to a post published on Grist two days ago, whose inaccuracies are remarkable even by the site’s standards.
The thesis of the post by Heather Smith is that the “U.S. oil boom was just a fairy tale.” This would seem preposterous on its face, but it gets worse. The reporter’s “evidence” was the U.S.’s declining rig count in the context of falling oil prices; however, she evidently didn’t know what a “rig count” is. The post has since been appended with a correction, which reads as follows:
CORRECTION: This post originally misidentified the nature of the rig count referred to in the first paragraph. It is a measure of the number of rigs looking for oil, rather than the number of wells that are in production — so the drop is in exploration, rather than total production. Grist regrets the error, and has sentenced the writer to hard time served reading the rotary rig count FAQ page.
This mistake was so egregious that Stephen Lacey, an editor at Greentech Media, took to twitter to lambaste the Grist reporter’s “ridiculous conclusion.” Mind you, Lacey used to write for Climate Progress before he moved to Greentech Media. That is, he is highly sympathetic to the Grist set. So his condemnation is especially noteworthy. I’ve reposted his twitter post, and the subsequent pile on, at the bottom of this post.
In fact, there is another major mistake in the short Grist post, one that the website has not yet corrected. According to author Heather Smith,
It [The oil and gas boom] was a fairy tale with real drills, sure — and since it was exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, it will continue to have real consequences for the people living near it.
I formatted the inaccuracy in the excerpt above. Oil and gas drilling is regulated by both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. What the reporter was thinking of is the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “Fracking”) from components of the Safe Drinking Water Act.