There could be a wealth of shale oil resources in the south of England, according to a report released last month. But despite the increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with ramping up oil production, the report barely featured in print newspapers’ climate change coverage.
That’s in stark contrast to a similar report on shale gas released almost 12 months ago.
In late May, the British Geological Survey (BGS) released a report suggesting there could be as much as 4.4 billion barrels of oil locked in the UK’s shale rock.
Shale gas has been a big story, and you might expect news of the report to filter into climate change coverage, particularly since the climate implications of a BGS report on shale gas last June had a significant impact.
But that hasn’t been the case. This just wasn’t a climate change story – and the lack of shale gas made it a much smaller media moment that earlier in the year. Our analysis of all articles printed in the UK’s major papers shows there were 349 mentioning climate change in April, significantly down on last year.
That’s not to say climate change wasn’t mentioned at all in relation to the report.
The Guardian notes that a key objection to fracking – the method for extracting fuel from shale rock – is that it can “accelerate climate change” as potent greenhouse gases leak from the wells. Likewise, the Daily Mail carries a quote from a Greenpeace activist objecting to the practice as it adds to “carbon pollution” – an alternative term for increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
None of the other major daily newspapers reported the climate implications of the report’s findings, however. Instead, they focused on a set of accompanying policies to compensate homeowners near fracking sites.
Oil is principally used for heating or as a transport, not for power generation. As such, there isn’t any debate about it displacing more carbon intensive fossil fuels in the power sector, as there is with shale gas. The community payoffs announced alongside BGS’s estimate may simply have been a more obvious angle.
So if the papers weren’t looking at the shale oil report, what were climate change stories about?
Three papers – The Times, Guardian, and Daily Telegraph – were responsible for almost 60 per cent of the articles. When the newspapers’ readerships is taken into account, it’s a much more equal spread, however.
The Times had a number of stories looking at comments made by climate scientist Lennart Bengtsson. A Times front page claimed the journal had “deliberately suppressed” dissenting views on the severity of global warming. It followed that story with two pieces calling for an end to the “bullying” of climate scientists and “bias” within the community.
The journal dismissed the claims, however. It took the unusual step of publishing reviewer comments on the paper which show reviewers had raised concerns about the quality of the research.
The Bengtsson coverage gave the Times more climate coverage over the period. The Observer was the only other newspaper to increase its climate change coverage from a month before. It published a number of articles on two piece of climate research. The first was a report by the US’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) showing climate change is a “real and present danger”. The Observer ran a piece by a political analyst outlining how Miami is already feeling the heat alongside the report’s release. The Daily Telegraph, Times, and Guardian also covered the report.
On the same weekend, the Observer took a look at research outlining the implications of a West Antarctic ice sheet collapsing. One scientist described it as a “holy shit” moment in climate research. The Observer used both reports as the basis for an editorial calling for immediate action to curb emissions.
This is the latest in a monthly series of blogs which track the number of articles UK newspapers publish on climate change. For more information on how the data is collected and analysed, see this.