Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Fwd: Huge story gets little coverage

Huge story gets little coverage

The most important news story of 2013 went all but unreported.

Petronas, the giant Malaysian oil and gas company, announced a $36 billion investment in British Columbia. For comparison, that's larger than the entire GDP of New Brunswick or Newfoundland. They're going to frack for natural gas, pipe it to the coast and load it into specialized tanker ships for LNG - "liquefied natural gas." They'll ship it from North America, where gas sells for about $3.50 per thousand cubic feet, to Asia, where it sells for up to $19. This news was reported precisely once in Canada's largest newspaper, the Toronto Star. Other newspapers noted it in passing, usually buried in the business section. The CBC reported the announcement and then dropped it, going back to their usual diet of anti-fracking fearmongering.

Compare that coverage with, say, the proposed Canada-Europe trade deal. That proposal got substantial coverage (as it should have). But it's only worth $12 billion a year.

This fits a pattern. How many Canadians know that the two proposed oilsands pipelines in B.C. - Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion - would entail more than $13 billion in construction work?

Petronas plus those two projects are nearly $50 billion right there. Add in TransCanada Pipelines' proposed $12 billion Energy East pipeline and the Canadian leg of their $5 billion Keystone XL pipeline, and you're just a touch smaller than Canada's entire auto industry output.

But that's just the construction of these pipelines. That's not what's going to be shipped through them every year. The oil pipelines, at today's prices, will pump more than $100 billion a year. And the Petronas gas project, over its lifetime, measures more than a trillion dollars.

Any of these five projects would be the largest public works project in Canada today - and none of them use any Canadian taxpayers' money. Taken together they represent the largest construction boom in Canadian history, greater than building the Canadian Pacific Railway or the St. Lawrence Seaway.

So why have they received so little coverage?

It's true, the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines have received enormous attention - but it has all been political coverage, dominated by professional anti-oilsands lobbyists, almost all of whom are paid for by foreign interests to whip up environmental fears. That suits most journalists just fine - it's more fun to cover a stunt by Greenpeace than to report on a dry economic study. And most reporters aren't good at math anyways. There are other explanations, too. Most journalists are based in Toronto and Ottawa, and the centre of gravity of these projects is in the west, a place not well-known or well-liked by many reporters. And then there's the ideological explanation: Many reporters just don't support heavy industry, and are inherently suspicious of capitalism itself. They are true believers in the superstition that using oil and gas causes global warming, even though the UN itself has reported no global warming since 1998.

But hundreds of thousands of Canadians know how important oil and gas is. It's what's lifted Saskatchewan and Newfoundland from economic "have-not" to "have" status. It's what has lured thousands of Atlantic Canadians west, for the promise to earn six figures. Ask a journalist what the most important story of 2013 was and they'll tell you it was Rob Ford or Miley Cyrus.

But that's the difference between the world of work and the world of chatter and gossip.





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