A correction appeared Thursday (18 April) in the Austin American-Statesman regarding a “misquote” of a report from Bentek Energy, described as a Colorado energy market analytics company. The error occurred in a commentary on Sunday. The paper printed the correction this way:
A story on Page E1 Sunday about hydralic tracturing for oil and gas recovery misquoted a Bentek Energy report on projected production levels. The report forecast that U.S. oil production would increase by 2.2 million barrels a day by 2016.
So, what was the error?
As is the policy at many papers, the correction neglected to tell the reader what, exactly, was being corrected.
Was the year wrong? Did the earlier article say the increase in production could be realized by 2018? Or 2015? Or 3016?
Or was the number of barrels-per-day wrong? Did it say the increase would be 2.3 million barrels a day? Or 2.0 million? Or 3.2 million?
How big an error was it?
Well, it was a monstrous error. A true gusher.
Instead of 2.2 million barrels, the original article said
“U.S. production should surpass 2.2 billion barrels a day….”
That’s right: “2.2 BILLION barrels.”
That should have struck ANYONE as a crazy-big number. Worldwide consumption in 2010, I believe, was a little UNDER 90 MILLION barrels A DAY. If the 2.2 BILLION BARRELS A DAY increase in U.S. production is right, our energy troubles would disappear over a weekend.
Advice to journalists and editors, and readers: When you see the word BILLION, take a deep breath and break out the calculator. Or go to Google or Bing….
Millions and billions are not to be confused.
It takes a THOUSAND millions to reach a SINGLE billion. Confusing a million and a billion is like confusing a three-mile drive from Boston to Cambridge with a three-thousand mile drive from Boston to San Francisco.
The Sunday article, about hydraulic fracturing, carried this headline: “Drilling method low risk, valuable.” I’m not sure about the drilling risks of hydraulic fracturing, but I am sure of the risks that surface when journalists are entrusted with numbers. Those risks are high. Ask for a second opinion.