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A Tulsa TV station's mix-up caused a major mishap in the crude oil market

If anyone needed proof that it doesn't take much to make gas prices jump, here it is: Reuters reports that world oil prices leaped again today because a Tulsa, Okla., TV station published an erroneous report on its Web site.

The report claimed that a lightning strike had touched off a fire at a Tulsa-area refinery. The managers of the refinery, apparently noting that they were not on fire, promptly extinguished the false report, and the TV station removed it from their site. Not quickly enough, however, to prevent oil traders around the globe from pressing the panic button and sending crude prices spiraling up another 40 cents a barrel.

I find this story disturbing on several levels:

  1. If international markets can move on the basis of a Tulsa TV station's Web site, we are in a heap of trouble. For one thing, Web sites are almost always an afterthought at TV stations. I've worked at several, so I base this on firsthand knowledge. TV stations are in the business of broadcasting TV shows. If they have anybody who can actually write news, they're working on the 11 o'clock broadcast, not the Web page. This is generally the province of an underpaid coed or an intern. Secondly, Tulsa ranks as the No. 62 broadcast market in the United States. From a media standpoint, that's pretty much the bottom rung -- at least among towns that boast a freeway and a few multistoried buildings. If this is where oil buyers get their news, no wonder I'm paying $3.29 a gallon for unleaded.
  2. I don't think the problem is limited to the energy industry. The analysts that cover tech stocks are just as vulnerable to a bad piece of news reporting. Financial analysts are expected to be at least quasi-clairvoyant, and since that's pretty much impossible, they work hard to find out things (and when that fails, to guess things) before anybody else. Scouring the Web sites of Podunk TV stations and other spurious news outlets is one way to pick up a market-moving tidbit before it hits the major media, giving an analyst (and subsequently his or her client investors) a leg up on the competition. It's also a good place to pick up the scent of a red herring, potentially throwing markets into turmoil by indiscriminately overvaluing or trashing an unsuspecting stock.
  3. I'm happy that the fine folks at the Wynnewood Refinery in Garvin County, Okla., are safe tonight, despite what their neighbors at KOTV may have reported. I'm not so pleased that a little snafu like this can cause a global ripple effect that further drives up prices at the pump. Filling up my SUV is already a hideous experience. So please, whether you work at a TV station in Tulsa or publish a parish newsletter in Anchorage, let's all try to be at the top of our game people. The Internet is an indiscriminate medium, treating every Web page on Earth as if it were of equal importance and credibility. In this environment, one slip of the keyboard can spell disaster.

Interesting to note, a very similiar incident occured just two weeks ago when a fake email was published on Engadget, subsequently sinking the Apple stock price.



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RE: ?
By noxipoo on 5/31/2007 2:26:07 PM , Rating: 2
well, the US doesn't tax gas and cars to hell like you guys it seems. i'd actually go protest with a sign if they ever did congestion charges here.


RE: ?
By Spivonious on 5/31/2007 3:50:55 PM , Rating: 2
I heard on the news this morning that NYC is thinking about doing just that. I think it's a great idea as it would remove traffic problems from NYC and force more people to use trains and buses which would decrease the fares.


RE: ?
By Xerstead on 5/31/2007 4:28:59 PM , Rating: 2
The British government wants more motorists to use public transport and tries to get the motorist off the road with increased taxes, 'Improving' the road layout (cough...splutter...) and millions of Speed cameras.
But dispite, the introduction of road/congestion charging increased road/fuel taxes etc. No improvement or increased capacity, seems to have been made to the current P.T. system.
Also, the cost of P.T. in Britian continues to increase well above the rate of inflation.
So it's stil quicker and cheaper for me to travel by car for most journeys.


RE: ?
By StevoLincolnite on 6/1/2007 3:01:05 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like Australia.
I'm a rural part of South Australia the price of fuel is $1.49
so...
$1.49 per letre ROUGHLY works out to be 5.59 a gallon.
Which add the fact that for every American dollar you can buy 70 cents of aussie money...
And I think its even worst if you convert it to EU >.>


RE: ?
By exanimas on 6/1/2007 7:58:23 PM , Rating: 1
Just a correction on your money conversion, 1 USD = 1.20295 AUD according to XE.com So in USD it would be about $4.65, still much worse than the ~$3 per gallon of regular where I live.


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