Rumor has wings, Truth doesn’t

A lie travels round the world (with winged sandals) while truth is putting on her boots.


And that proverb dates from before radio, television, or the internet!

This is a topic getting a lot of discussion lately with reference to Obama’s campaign (see Doonesbury) but lately I’ve had local instances.

I’m on a couple of local e-lists where a single person forwards items of interest to the area. One’s pretty much limited to prevention of wildfires & news about nearby fires; the other is more freeform, and occasionally includes forwarded emails of the sort that spread across the net like wildfires.
One of those caught my eye last week. It had to do with the Bakken formation oil deposit in Montana and North Dakota, and the gist of it was that the formation contains 503 billion barrels of oil which we shouldn’t let anyone prevent us (as Clinton allegedly did, in the 90’s) from extracting right away to solve our high gas prices.

For the net-savvy and many others, I think the subject line should have been a clue: “Where is the oil? Take time to read this one!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Another clue was that various specific numbers were given, references were made to government reports–even described as being online, yet there were no links to see the originals. Not even any complete footnote-type citations. In an apparent gesture of bona fides, the author said he/she had googled this information and invited the reader to “(GOOGLE it.) I did, and again, this BLEW my mind.”

Photo: Hermes/Mercury lacing up his winged sandals. For this discussion, he represents Rumor–he was both the fleet messenger of the gods and a thief and maker of mischief. Sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 1744. Photo from Encarta.

In well under five minutes I’d established to my satisfaction that this was one lie after another. Wikipedia and Google both helped me find out that the Bakken formation is a shale-oil formation which does contain a lot of oil. But the amount of “technically recoverable” oil, in the latest report [3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil Assessed in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken Formation—25 Times More Than 1995 Estimate. U.S. Geological Survey (April 10, 2008)], is less than 1% of the 503 billion barrels hysterically described in the email. To put this in perspective, the US in 2007 imported 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In addition, recovering oil from oil shale requires temperatures of at least 1000° F. and/or solvents, and is much more damaging to the environment than good old oil wells. Not to mention greenhouse gases from mining, extraction, and use.


Squeezing oil from stone is not an easy proposition. Photo of oil shale from US Dept. of Energy.

I put all this into an email reply to the list-person, beginning with a sincere thanks

I really appreciate your local emails and the time you take to provide them.

But for non-local stuff, the email-o-sphere is just full of sensationalist misinformation. Some of it is “disinformation,” deliberately scattered to serve some political agenda. Please take time to check emails before forwarding them. If you check online you’ll find that…

Then I suggested that he might forward my email to the list, giving him permission to do so over my name as long as the entire thing, which wasn’t too long, was included.

The reply I got back was brief: “Thanks for the information.” In the week since then, nothing has appeared on the list about his previous forwarded post, nothing even suggesting there might be another point of view.

In rural areas such as ours there’s already heavy distrust of the government, so I figure the appeal of the false information will be strong. Politicians who deny that

a recent technological breakthrough has opened up the Bakken’s massive reserves… and we now have access of up to 500 billion barrels. And because this is light, sweet oil, those billions of barrels will cost Americans just $16 PER BARREL! That’s enough crude to fully fuel the American economy for “41 years straight”.

are going to be condemned as part of a conspiracy to rob the American people through high oil prices. Of course there may well be such a conspiracy, but it probably has more to do with the Iraq War and Cheney’s closed-door energy-policy meetings that he is trying to keep secret from Congress. See, I can be a conspiracy theorist too, and frequently I am! But I do like to have a little factual basis for my paranoid fantasies. Like these news stories about no-bid oil contracts being granted by the Iraqi government to US companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. These contracts are short-term but are widely expected to give an advantage, to those who receive them, in planned later bidding. With oil prices like these, the Iraqis are giving no-bid no-auction contracts? Oddly, an article from al-Jazeera doesn’t jump on the bandwagon of condemning the US, but quotes Iraqi officials as saying that companies in other smaller countries will also participate (how much? token participation?) and that the big American companies want a share of the profits, not just a fixed fee, which may be a deal-breaker for the Iraqis. (Brief general background here.) Anyway, that can be my conspiracy for today.

3 thoughts on “Rumor has wings, Truth doesn’t

  1. Thanks, Cynthia, for pointing out the “due diligence” we should all be taking with the emails flying around. I’ve seen a boatload of ridiculous “information” that can easily be checked out. The more excited the writing, the more likely it’s horse puckey. is one source, also Wikepedia, and just pawing through Google.

  2. If I’m reading this right, it seems to be the proposal and collusion of a privately owned mining corporation and the protectors of public land to basically strip mine a scab into the North American continent larger than Vermont, making every catastrophic vision of environmental collapse come closer to becoming true. Is it possible that the greedy are unaware that the planet is already burning? Can’t they see the smoke in the air? The ‘light sweet crude’ bit was particularly cunning, though. I’d like to meet a girl like that, too. Only sociopathic fools would invest their and our futures in something so clearly self-destructive. When the story is true, ‘paranoia’ is no longer applicable.

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