Cutting Through the Internet Echo Chamber

There’s a commercial for a big insurance company making the rounds right now poking fun at the veracity of some of the things you find online. In the ad, a woman tells her State Farm agent that if something appears on the Internet, well then, that means it must be true. “Where did you hear that?” the agency asks. “The Internet,” she says. The commercial ends with the lady walking away with a (rather slovenly) gentleman on their way to a date — someone whom she had met online, and who had claimed to be a French model.

We were reminded of that commercial recently, when “news” started to circulate around the Internet that Tulsa, Okla. had passed a ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing within its city limits. Almost immediately, the item was picked up on Twitter, and from there, it was off-and-running. No one really bothered to check it out, of course. It was too good to fact-check. None of the articles even cited a source.

In the most recent article on the topic, James Burgess with Oil Price wrote that “some cities, even those in the heart of oil and gas country have moved to ban fracking within their limits. Tulsa, Oklahoma (once the self-proclaimed oil capital of the world) has completely banned fracking within the city limits.”  Suzanne Goldenberg echoed the same inaccurate statement in London’s The Guardian.  With a few words changed here and there, each article regurgitates the same sentences and point.  And fortunately, the point couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You want to know the truth? Here it is:

In 2010, Tulsa City Council voted (see item 7) to lift the 104 year old moratorium on drilling within the city limits, under certain circumstances.  District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton led the charge to propose the moratorium be lifted, much to the praise of many local oil and gas leaders.  According to the Tulsa World, the council began researching the moratorium two years prior to the January 2010 vote as an answer to budget concerns and a possible increased revenue stream option.  The proposed ordinance was mirrored after a similar ordinance passed in Oklahoma City, which has proven to be very successful.  Lifting the ordinance was unanimously approved by the city council.

Eagleton points out that the moratorium on drilling in the city of Tulsa was set in place over 100 years ago when the process of drilling was not what it is today, when “drilling activity was toxic, and many wells literally were explosive”.  Advanced technology and sophisticated safety measures have allowed the oil and gas industry to advance by leaps and bounds in protecting the environment and public safety, and Eagleton argued that the drilling business is “environmentally friendly and compatible with city life”.  With that in mind, the concept of drilling within the city limits was an “out of the box-idea” and one Eagleton said was imperative to combat the city’s budget concerns.  Tulsa chose to lift the ban and open up exploration and drilling options for private companies, hoping to see results.

In a November 2012 article in E&E News, the reporter focuses on the fight between local and state governments across the country, the issue being local governments bringing tighter regulations and restrictions to the oil and natural gas community, state governments empathizing with industry groups, and the lack of uniformity that is a result.  The article appears to be the genesis for the misinformation in the and Guardian articles, stating “And in Oklahoma, where the fervor for drilling is no less intense, some cities flat-out ban drilling within their city limits.  Among them is Tulsa, which once billed itself as the Oil Capital of the World.”  The issue and controversy of a lack of uniformity is not present in Tulsa.  Like Oklahoma City, Tulsa chose to embrace the oil and gas industry to boost its economy, and develop the city’s own mineral rights.  And while the process took some time, along with a handful of sensible restrictions, Tulsa devised a plan that works best for them.

This continuous recurrence of such inaccurate information proves how the Internet echo chamber can erroneously impact an issue.  The least we can do is observe the truth – a city council vote lifted a 104 year-old moratorium on drilling within the city limits of Tulsa, Oklahoma and proved that city and state governments can see eye to eye, and work together to promote safe and responsible energy development across the nation.

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