September 18, 2008

Factcheck: Alaskan Energy Production

By Dave

On the campaign trail this week Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin claimed that she was well qualified to advise John McCain in the role of ‘Energy Czar,’ because as Governor of Alaska, she oversaw “nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of oil and gas.”

On MSNBC on Thursday, while interviewing McCain ally Senator Sam Brownback, Norah O’Donnell challenged Palin’s claims and said that “In fact Alaska does not supply 20% of the US domestic supply of oil and gas. It’s just 7.5%. If she doesn’t know the facts, then why do we want her to be the Energy Czar for the entire United States?”

Senator Brownback wasn’t expecting the question and wasn’t prepared with a ready comeback for the hard numbers O’Donnell put forward, but as always the facts speak for themselves.

According to the Resource Development Council for Alaska, “Alaska’s oil and gas industry has produced more than 16 billion barrels of oil and 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, accounting for an average of 20 percent of the entire nation’s domestic production (1980 – 2000).”

More recent figures from the Department of Energy show that Alaska is responsible for 18.1% of United States domestic oil production and 13.1% of domestic natural gas production.

So Palin’s claim is dead on, based on statements from Alaska’s main energy industry organization, though their figures are slightly out of date. Even based on the most up-to-date data, her statement on natural gas production may be slightly overstated, but she’s pretty close on oil production, as 18.1% can reasonably be described as “nearly 20%.” And the combined production percentage of 15.6% is double O’Donnell’s  figure of 7.5% and much closer to 20% than it is to 7.5%.

O’Donnell’s comment relies on the same figures used by other NBC reporters this week, including Savannah Guthrie on the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday night, and seems to be that news outlet’s ‘party line’ on this topic.  The source of this error appears to be the erroneous conclusion that Palin was referring to domestic energy production, which would include coal, nuclear, hydroelectric and other sources, rather than specifically oil and gas which is what she said in the statement O’Donnell quoted.   Palin has mistakenly referred to domestic energy production once, in her September 11th interview.

Whether this is just an example of bad research or media bias, it does raise the question of why, if accurate facts are important, anyone would want to watch Norah O’Donnell get them wrong on MSNBC or Savannah Guthrie misstate them on the NBC Nightly News.

How long will NBC continue to spread this misinformation? What are the chances that they will issue a correction or apology?

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