Yellowstone Oil Spill Missing from Keystone XL Coverage On CNN, Fox

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Media Matters for America

Yellowstone Oil Spill Missing from Keystone XL Coverage On CNN, Fox

MSNBC, Other Outlets Put Spill In Context Of Keystone's Environmental Risks

View of this month's crude oil that spilled in and near the Yellowstone River. (Photo: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette)

CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline's proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL's environmental risks.

Yellowstone Spill Threatened Health Of Residents Near Keystone XL's Proposed Path

Oil Pipeline Leaked 50,000 Gallons Of Crude Into Yellowstone River. On January 17, an oil pipeline owned by Bridger Pipeline Co. spilled 1,200 barrels of crude oil -- or about 50,000 gallons -- into the Yellowstone River, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency. Reuters reported:

A small but heavily subscribed pipeline that transports 42,000 barrels a day of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is expected to remain closed on Tuesday after a weekend breach that spilled 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.

[...]

Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency in the state's eastern Dawson and Richland counties on Monday while towns and cities downstream, including Williston, North Dakota, are monitoring their water systems in case of contamination. 

However the water supply of Glendive, the town of 5,000 about 10 miles (16 km) downstream of the spill, has already been tested and found to have elevated levels of hydrocarbons. Water intakes in the river for the city have been closed, according to the EPA. The company, EPA and other agencies are trying to get other drinking water supplies for Glendive, the EPA's Mylott said. [Reuters, 1/20/15]

Spill Has Released Cancer-Causing Agent Into Region's Water. Days after the spill, officials detected benzene -- a cancer-causing agent -- in the water supply of Glendive. From CBSNews.com:

Some residents of an eastern Montana farm community are criticizing officials for taking more than two days to notify them that their drinking water is contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical.

Elevated levels of benzene were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive near the North Dakota border. The contamination followed a 50,000 gallon oil spill that found its way from a break in a 12-inch pipeline into the Yellowstone River. [CBSNews.com, 1/20/15]

Keystone XL Would Be Built Close To The Site Of Yellowstone Spill.  On January 21, The New York Times reported that Keystone XL "would pass about 25 miles north of Glendive," a town located downstream of the Yellowstone spill. [The New York Times, 1/21/15]

A Spill From Keystone XL Could Be Much Worse Than The Yellowstone Spill. As Think Progress reported, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is much wider than the Bridger pipeline and would pump much more oil on a daily basis:

The proposed -- and controversial -- northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline would be three times the diameter of the breached Bridger pipeline, and pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas. Many landowners and local residents are concerned about what a potential spill would mean for critical watersheds and aquifers -- not to mention what subsequent increased tar sands oil production means for Canadian watersheds. [ThinkProgress, 1/19/15]

CNN And Fox News Ignored Yellowstone Spill In Their Keystone XL Coverage

CNN And Fox Barely Mentioned Yellowstone Spill -- And Didn't Tie It To Keystone XL. CNN and Fox News each provided only a single brief mention of the Yellowstone oil spill, according to a review of Media Matters' internal video archives, and neither mention was in the context of reporting on Keystone XL. CNN made a 20-second mention of the spill in a headline rundown on the January 21 edition of Early Start, while Fox News provided an equally brief mention of the spill on the January 21 edition of Fox & Friends First.

Other Media Outlets Did Link Yellowstone Spill to Environmental Concerns About Keystone XL

MSNBC's Schultz Cited Yellowstone Spill As Reminder That "The President Is Right To Veto" Keystone XL. On the January 21 edition of The Ed Showhost Ed Schultz noted that Keystone XL would be a much bigger pipeline than the Bridger pipeline, and pointed to the Yellowstone spill as the latest reminder that "oil pipelines are risky":

SCHULTZ: No matter how you cut it, oil pipelines are risky just like cars crash, planes crash, trains have derailments -- pipelines leak. It`s a dangerous game, case and point. Let`s check out Yellowstone River in Montana that`s unfolding right now.

On Saturday, 40,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Yellowstone River from a 12-inch steel pipe. Now, do you know how big this Keystone pipe is going to be? About four times that size.

[...]

The Yellowstone River saw another major pipeline spill, in 2011, 63 gallons of oil spilled near Billings, Montana. I could go right on through the list, there`s been major ruptures in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, in North Dakota. The EPA reported between 2012 and 2013 roughly 300 pipeline spills went unreported in North Dakota alone.

Americans need to keep this in mind -- Keystone, the President is right to veto this. [The Ed Show1/21/15]

MSNBC's Maddow To Pro-Keystone Senator Manchin: "Does It Give You Pause When We Have Pipeline Accidents Like The One ... In The Yellowstone River In Montana?" During an interview with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who supports Keystone XL, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted that the Yellowstone spill occurred "very close to the Keystone route," and asked Manchin whether the spill gives him "pause" about the Keystone XL's possible environmental risks:

MADDOW: Senator, does it give you pause when we have pipeline accidents like the one that we had over the weekend in the Yellowstone River in Montana? That's very close to the Keystone route. That's not a pipeline that was seen as very high risk. In Glendive, Montana tonight, they're drinking bottled water and nobody knows how much of the beautiful Yellowstone River has been destroyed by an oil spill there on a very small pipeline. Are you worried at all that we're essentially selling the safety of this country, putting some very important aquifers at risk, essentially to help Canadian companies get their stuff to the world market at no real benefit to Americas?

MANCHIN: We respectfully disagree on the real benefits to America. Any time we have more security and we have more independence from foreign oil, we're going to be more secure and it might not take us to places such as Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and all the other places, which I don't believe we should be. So, I've been very clear about that. [MSNBC Special Coverage: State of the Union Address, 1/21/15]

New York Times: Yellowstone spill "has led to renewed concerns among environmentalists about the safety" of Keystone XL. In a January 21 article, The New York Times noted the proximity of the spill to Keystone XL's proposed route, and quoted an environmental group that opposes building the pipeline:

The spill has led to renewed concerns among environmentalists about the safety of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would pass about 25 miles north of Glendive.

[...]

Environmental groups, however, said the pipeline rupture was an omen.

"Every barrel of oil that spills into the Yellowstone River is another reason to reject Keystone XL," said Jamie Henn, spokesman for 350.org, an environmental group opposed to Keystone, which is being built to transport crude oil from Canada to refineries in the United States. "Pipelines are inherently unsafe," Mr. Henn said. "If they're not spilling oil into rivers, they're still spilling carbon into the atmosphere." [The New York Times1/21/15]

Al Jazeera America: "Montana's latest Yellowstone River spill wrenched focus back to Keystone's risks." Al Jazeera America noted in a January 21 article that Keystone XL would also cross the Yellowstone River, and quoted a local resident expressing concern that while the current spill is "bad," a potential Keystone XL spill could be even worse:

Certainly the disaster is far more than just a local issue. As more than 100 emergency workers hacked at thick river ice in a frantic attempt to find and contain the spilled oil, the U.S. Senate in Washington made good on what its new Republican leaders promised would be their first order of business: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would also cross the Yellowstone River in Glendive.

[...]

In its similarities to the January 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia's Elk River and the 2012 tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River, Montana's latest Yellowstone River spill wrenched focus back to Keystone's risks.

While President Barrack Obama has vowed to veto Keystone, the enthusiasm of its boosters has left many who live in its path worried that it will still be built, possibly at the expense of vital infrastructure upkeep and without sound contingency plans for spills. The scene in Glendive offered them no comfort.

"This is bad," said Irene Moffett, 79, who ranches and farms on a vast bench of grass above the Yellowstone River in Glendive. "But it's nothing compared to what they want to put in." [Al Jazeera America, 1/21/15]

While Largely Ignoring Yellowstone Spill, CNN and Fox Provided Forum For Keystone XL Advocates

CNN's Camerota Adopted Senator Ernst's Keystone XL Talking Points, Which Included Downplaying Environmental Impact. The January 21 edition of CNN's New Day featured the GOP's response statement to the State of the Union address, in which Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) stated that the State Department has said the Keystone pipeline "could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact." In response, host Alisyn Camerota asked White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, "given all those reasons, why doesn't the president like it?" [CNN, New Day1/21/15]

Fox News And CNN Aired Several Other Segments In Which Republicans Advocated For Keystone XL. Since the Yellowstone River spill, Fox News and CNN have aired several segments featuring GOP proponents of Keystone XL:

  • The January 22 edition of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson featured Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) comments that the president's supporters "won't allow [him] to do the rational, realistic, practical thing, which would be to approve this pipeline." Correspondent Mike Emanuel also reported: "Bottom line, supporters here on Capitol Hill are trying to keep the pressure on the president to finally back the project." [Fox News, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson1/22/15]
  • Bret Baier interviewed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on the January 20 edition of Special Report, during which McConnell stated that approving the Keystone XL pipeline "would create 42,000 jobs" and is "the kind of thing we ought to be doing." [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier1/20/15]
  • On the January 21 edition of CNN's Wolf, host Wolf Blitzer interviewed Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who touted some Democrats' support of Keystone XL while criticizing Obama for failing to produce energy on public property, stating, "because of his policies, we're not getting the production out of other property -- public property, government property -- that we could be reaping the rewards from." [CNN, Wolf1/21/15]

Denise Robbins

Denise Robbins joined Media Matters' Climate and Energy team in 2013. Prior to working with Media Matters, she worked in communications for renewable energy and environmental advocacy.

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