Not Newsworthy 50,000 Gallons of Spilled Crude Oil?
Ho-hum….another crude oil rail tanker derailed and this time it was in Lynchburg, Virginia. A portion of the cargo (highly toxic and explosive Bakken Crude from North Dakota) was spilled into the James River from a high tech rail tanker that was designed and approved in the early 1970s.
There was a little associated fanfare with the incident: fires, explosions, partial downtown city evacuations and drinking water contamination, but the region’s most read newspaper with nearly a half-million daily adult readers the Virginia-Pilot decided that this particular news item was NOT really worth informing the public about.
This is a fairly clear case of when media ownership concentration, (which is the result of Reagan era deregulation) now threatens lives, livelihoods and the environment.
The main source of news in the region decided it was better to focus on storm damage in other states, the death of a hollywood actor, a local priest that talks to the Pope, the style of military haircuts, the possibility of closing a teen babysitter murder case that happened in 1963, how a national guard pilot had his career progress stalled for two years, the drowning of a dolphin trainer in San Diego, and a GOP filibuster. In other words important news items and other time sensitive and direct local impact issues to those readers the paper claims to be serving for the last 149 years.
Fourteen CSX train cars carrying crude oil derailed, several caught fire and exploded in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia on May 1st, 2014. 50,000 gallons of toxic Crude Oil was spilled into the James River as well as three of the rail car oil tankers. The City of Lynchburg (population 77,000) required extensive evacuations of the downtown area. Just downstream of the James River oil spill is Richmond Virginia (population 210,000) and the James River just happens to be their main source of city drinking water. The James River for those fact checkers that actual do a little due diligence then flows into the Chesapeake Bay, which is world famous for seafood.
After going through the city of Richmond, the CSX train was also scheduled to travel through Hampton Roads (population 1.7 million) before reaching the seaport. I am sure the editors of the Virginian-Pilot have it on good authority from somewhere that this minor incident couldn’t have happened a few more miles down the line at either Richmond or Hampton Roads, where due to population density could potentially have been a much larger issue.
Perhaps it is like after the first half dozen moon landings, it is just boring news now, and if this particular story sounds familiar it is because another CSX train carrying crude oil derailed in Philadelphia just a few months ago (last January) and according to USA Today is just one of six crude oil “derailments that have gone up in flames in North American since July” of 2013. There was also a coal carrying CSX train that derailed in Baltimore, two days ago, but I digress.
However, the story of the Lynchburg CSX crude oil derailment was considered “significant news” for dozens of other newspapers and news agencies nationally and worldwide here is just a small sample:
BBC US & Canada News:
Video from the Washington Post
Wall Street Journal
Christian Science Monitor
International Business Times
Los Angeles Daily News
New York Daily News
New York Post
Mineapolis Star Tribune
National Geographic News
Richmond Times Dispatch
It makes sense that Richmond Virginia be concerned about the transport of crude oil via rail as Richmond was the next major city that this particular train was to pass through on the way to Hampton Roads.
Popular Science Article & Video
Some selected videos of the incident:
Drone Video of the Crude oil train derailment:
Stoneblue Drone Video of Lynchberg crude oil tanker car derailment:
The situation brings several questions to mind:
- Why is important information not getting out to the people that could be most negatively impacted?
- Are local or regional papers really operating in the best interests of the communities they are serving?
- How and Why does such a story that makes both national and international news get buried in the local press in a region where crude oil is being transported?
The problem with Newspapers and other media being owned by the same Corporate interests (TV, radio, internet websites) is that there are now fewer voices/opinions reaching the public in significant numbers due to media consolidation.
Perhaps it was just an exceptional news day and the editor placed this particular news item exactly where it belonged?
First we will not mention and list again all the important events that happened on that day, which filled the entire fist section of the newspaper and skip to the insert sections, where the editors obviously believe this story belongs.
The story appeared on page three of the Virginian-Pilot, again not the 3rd page of the newspaper but page 3 of an inner inserted hampton roads section that doesn’t even rate capitol letters in the section header!
So what were some of the top news stories that were considered to be more newsworthy on that day?
Starting with the front page of the inserted subsection of the paper:
(1) The lead story was about revisiting a 1984 case with a huge picture almost 30% of the front page featuring nothing more than a landscape picture of some road signs and a creek, the article was about a police detective that originally was thought to have killed himself 30 years ago, but now for some reason that was never explained that may not have been the case after all, the article gave no details as why there was now a change of perception on the case.
(2) A story about neighborhood unsung heroes who deserve to have praises sung about them such as the gentleman that gets up early to cut the grass for people that can’t do it easily for themselves due to being afflicted with arthritis etc.
(3) Story about Gay Marriage Ban’s Supporters getting a boost from support from last weeks Supreme Court decision to approve an amendment banning affirmative action programs at state universities.
(4) A story about “a political novice” who is now running for city government after she was able to get 13 people their city jobs back after termination. Guess she figures she is getting a head start with 13 votes already so why not run?
(5) Three lines with picture about The Coast Guard getting a new top officer in the 5th District.
(6) Finally at the very bottom right corner (area circled in red) were these words (without a picture) in lower case and smaller font that most everything else on the page was this teaser: train derails A CSX train carrying crude oil derails in downtown Lynchburg and catches fire. Page 3
Nothing about an explosion, water source contamination or any real concern for that matter.
Page 2 continued most of the main stories from page one but added:
(1) An article about the state looking into joint tax filing for married same-sex couples
(2) A story about a grocery truck rig overturning on a beach road
(3) A homicide victim identified and a suspect charged.
The story on page 3 about exploding and leaking crude oil train cars appears right before the obituaries on page 4.
The coverage of the incident by the Virginian-Pilot doesn’t mention that there was an explosion, just burning and hardly mentions the possibility of drinking water contamination. The story also doesn’t connect any of the dots relating to the possibility that the same train could have had the incident a short time later when passing through two larger cities as it continued to the port in Hampton Roads. The article also fails to mention the adverse affect of 50,000 gallons of spilled crude oil into the James River might cause to fish, wildlife and in particular shellfish, which are filter feeders such as oysters and clams as the toxic crude oil continues into the Chesapeake Bay.
It seems that the downside of Ronald Reagan’s deregulation of media ownership has had the effect of news organizations presenting just one side of any story, which coincidently often benefit and support the business ventures or political views of the owners of the particular news conglomerate and/or their advertisers.
When regional newspapers wielding monopoly like power— quote from the The Virginian-Pilot website bragging about their position in the marketplace “the No. 1 source of news, information, entertainment and advertising in Southeast Virginia and northeastern North Carolina” offer such a myopic view of the world that they fail to address important concerns or health threats of their readers—concerned citizens have to ask why? Such actions seem suggest: negligence, apathy or corruption.
Many moons ago before President Reagan deregulated ownership of the newspaper and a television stations most cities had two or more newspapers which offered at least conservative and liberal views, however, with deregulation most cities now only have a single paper and only one point of view. Sadly some people don’t even realize which political party their newspaper favors and believe they are getting unbiased opinion.
The problem perhaps with this particular newspaper is that some of their advertising clients just happen to be in the fossil fuel and railroad transport business.
The best solution to the crude oil transport issue for society is to of course fix it long term. The answer is not to just build better oil train cars like the double-hulled oil tankers on the high seas or to approve building additional high pressure oil pipelines because they all eventually: leak, explode and/or contaminate the environment and fresh water supplies. The real answer is to stop using so much dangerous and environmentally costly fossil fuels in the first place and start investing more in renewable sources of energy, which means developing greener baseline nuclear Thorium power, and driving more electric cars etc. pretty much supporting anything other than putting more money into the current dominate energy mix that is causing problems.
It is a little surprising that the highly explosive and toxic crude oil (the same crude oil that caused all the trouble in Lynchburg) is being transported across the USA at great risk to the environment only to be then exported (even though the oil is originally from fracking the Bakken Shale wells in North Dakota). Perhaps someone can explain to me why that natural resource is being exported at the same time the US is trying to cut back on oil imports? That question was rhetorical–the answer is because even US oil barrens can make more money for their oil by selling it overseas, since it is so highly subsidized by the US government.
About the Virginian-Pilot is the No. 1 source of news, information, entertainment and advertising in Southeast Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Founded in 1865 and has nearly a half-million daily adult readers, and is one of the largest-circulation newspapers in the state of Virginia.
Perhaps out of shame?
The Virginia Pilot via one of their smaller online news entities reprinted on May 3rd, 2014 (several days after the incident) a little something on the topic from the Associated Press:
Media Concentration and greed appears to be keeping important facts about US crude oil production, transport, accidents and risk from coming to light.
EV of the Year Judge, independent green journalist, photographer, author and sustainability activist that has published over 1000 articles. Mr Burridge’s travels have taken him to over 30 countries and 300+ major cities. He is originally from the USA, but has been residing in Australia for the last seven years. Connect to Ken Burridge on: Twitter, facebook, Google+, Linked in or website