Friday, August 5, 2011

Investigative Journalism Lives?

The New York Times continues to dig for information that most of us don't have the time or energy to unearth.  In February, the Times obtained internal EPA documents that may have shown inadequate treatment of wastewater from hydraulically fractured gas wells.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection responded quickly, asserting that river tests showed that the water downstream of the treatment plants was safe.  Senator Bob Casey requested more testing by the DEP and the EPA in response to the Times investigation.  The Times also reviewed "internal e-mails and documents" of "industry executives and federal officials" and concluded that energy companies may be exaggerating their natural gas production from hydraulically fractured wells.  The SEC has since subpoenaed energy companies to determine how they estimate production. Most recently, the Times has claimed that an old EPA report shows that fracturing has contaminated a water well, contrary to industry's assertions that there never has been a proven incident of contamination.  The article also worries that sealed settlements are covering up other contamination incidents.  The 1987 report cited by the Times may not have enough data to prove anything, but at minimum, it's nice to have easy electronic access to a 1987 EPA report to Congress.

Even if scientists, regulators, or industry leaders end up poking holes in some of the conclusions reached by the Times, it's reassuring to know that investigative journalism is not quite dead.  By digging up dusty documents (and new ones that no one has bothered to notice), the Times encourages responses from all sides.  It makes us think about the repercussions of our energy choices, keeps regulators on their toes, and pushes the debate forward. 

-Hannah Wiseman

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