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The Star Tribune’s turnabout on off-shore drilling

Friday’s Strib features an editorial on breaking the nation’s addiction to oil in the wake of the Gulf disaster. In urging a swifter move to clean energy and phasing out oil subsidies, the paper opines:

The easy oil has been found and burned. Now the deeper, hard-to-get oil poses risks that neither the industry nor the government is prepared to handle. As for consumers, rather than confront our dependency and reform our lives, it’s easier to press for riskier ways to satisfy our habit and postpone the day of reckoning. Even in the face of unprecedented damage in the gulf, it’s easier to deflect culpability solely toward corporate and government players.

OK, but there’s one culpable risk-pusher the paper doesn’t mention: itself.

The same editorial page in June 2008:

… there are also good reasons to reconsider the nation’s offshore oil deposits, where drilling and exploration have long been banned thanks to a 1982 congressional moratorium and a 1990 executive order by President George H.W. Bush. … 

Much has changed since the 1982 moratorium. Though some environmental advocates dispute this, drilling technology has advanced over the past quarter-century. Oil companies can drill more efficiently in deeper water with significantly less risk to the environment. “Compared to worldwide tanker spill rates, outer continental shelf operations are more than five times safer,” according to the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service.


The editorial was written during the election-year freakout over $4-a-gallon gas. (This was the backdrop of “drill, baby, drill.”) To be fair, the Strib pushed for offshore drilling as a way to avoid sending rigs into Alaska’s environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Eerily, the editorial noted a BP corrosion failure that spilled 267,000 gallons onto Alaska’s North Slope.)

At the time, I criticized the editorial — which moved away from the paper’s long-held opposition to offshore drilling — as a sign of a rightward shift under Avista Capital Partners’ ownership. (That control ended during the Strib’s 2009 bankruptcy.) I took particular relish in noting that the editorial didn’t mention Avista’s extensive offshore-drilling investments.

That shot across the integrity bow opened up a comment-section fight with editorial writer Jill Burcum that I wish hadn’t happened. I still believe a voluntary disclosure of ownership’s interests would’ve been the right thing to do, but I don’t think Avista ordered the editorial or pulled any strings. Burcum is a diligent, independent reporter and sincere in her conclusions.

I do think, though, that the 2008 editorial shows the danger of what I call “moderate bias” — the notion that those with “extreme” positions are wrong.

It’s tempting (and sometimes right) to advocate a “balanced approach” to demonstrate independence from a particular ideology. But that, too, can be a conceit that blinds. As it turns out, the environmentalists were dead-on about deepwater risks, while the Minerals Management Service was a captive of the industry it was supposed to regulate.

Everyone makes mistakes, especially we relentless opinion-givers with less-than-clear crystal balls. But like umpire Jim Joyce after his blown call ruined a perfect game, it’s good to publicly admit you got it wrong — and reflect on why you did.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 06/04/2010 - 08:45 am.

    I has heartened to see that today’s editorial included a recommendation for flex fuel vehicles (in the “10 ways toward a smaller footprint sidebar).

    Ours is one of the many organizations in Minnesota that have making the case for moving away from petroleum based transportation fuels. Hopefully, more people will now heed that message and take action.

    Bob Moffitt
    Communications Director
    American Lung Association in Minnesota

  2. Submitted by Erik Hare on 06/04/2010 - 12:19 pm.

    Having just finished my own “mea culpa” post, I have to say that I think that the moral high ground is so incredibly open in this media environment that it presents a clear opportunity for anyone who wants it to seize it & make it their own. That could be the marketing niche that makes all the difference in a (rather nasty) era when everyone is trying to sound far more important than they are.

    It reminds me of one of the great quotes from the quote-machine that was Winston Churchill:

    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

    Hey, we’re only human. If you wanna be out there, you’re gonna risk being wrong. It’s far worse to be arrogant and/or delusional than to admit being wrong, IMHO. You want real progress? You want real distinction? Claim the moral high ground and you’ll get a lot of slack, IMHO. It might come in handy later.

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 06/04/2010 - 02:31 pm.

    Yes, but you need to remember that in 2008 the Strib was owned by faceless, shadowy investors whose identities were not known to us.

    As compared to the present ownership of the Strib which includes, um, other people whose identities are unknown to us.

    At least I think they have new owners, or does anyone really know?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2010 - 10:38 am.

    I hate to say it but sometimes the problem is simply ignorance. One thing about the free press is that people who don’t what their talking about are nevertheless allowed to editorialize in print. As for the Strib, as far as I can see regardless of ownership it’s editorial section remains pretty much of waste of time, mostly due to the middlism David refers to as moderate bias. I really appreciate that comment by the way Brauer, I think moderate bias or middlism is actually the dominant but invisible ideology that is causing bigger problems any other ideology at present.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/06/2010 - 11:27 am.

    Speaking of ignorance, what’s up with Jason Lewis? Why is he getting so much print space at the Strib these days?

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