Investigative reporting

Tyler Murphy

So in a rare occurrence, a random post on the Evening Sun forum contained accurate information that was only a few hours old. Forum poster Strongman712 said a gas well exploded in the Earlville area at 5 a.m.


Jessica Lewis and I followed up on the posted forum topic, expecting some over exaggerated happenstance by calling local fire and emergency officials in Chenango, none of which had a clue to what we were talking about. Our skepticism grew.


So in a last effort to see if there was something to the post I called the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to see if maybe something happened on their side of the boarder- and that’s exactly what happened. So thank you, Mr. Strongman712.


Although reporters rarely get an opportunity to work together at a scene Jessica and I both traveled to the remote rig in the far reaches of Lebanon. It took me about 20 minutes scrolling through online maps to find the local roads that mapquest refused to admit existed. But after painstakingly searching about every inch of the Town of Lebanon a quarter mile at a time on the computer I found Soule and Chamberlain Road, the two mentioned by the Madison Deputies.


Jessica being an Otselic Valley country native navigated us to the road and we just simplly drove along it until we saw the emergency closed road sign and the fire trucks.Other than the Eaton Fire Chief Rick Stoddard I can’t honestly say the emergency crews or the gas company’s personnel were very helpful at the scene. The firefighters told us that Nornew told them we weren’t allowed at the scene and that we might even have to leave the roadway if Nornew wanted. I tried to imagine how Nornew had the right to tell me anything or order the fire department around.


One Eaton volunteer even said that the pipeline could blow up at any time and kill us all right where we were standing and on those grounds, the company could basically makes us do what they wanted. He’s lucky I didn’t quote him in the story. Obviously the gas well wasn’t the only thing blowing hot air because if the company’s operations were truly that volatile than the public has truly been misled.


Nornew declined to meet with us at the scene and instead referred us to spokesman Dennis Holbrook. Later I called Holbrook and was impressed with his openness with the incident. He answered all the questions I had and explained in-depth the companies operations and the injuries. I applaud their transparency and willingness to work with the press and the public.


So Jessy and I left the scene not able to see anything but a muddy road leading into the woods. We decided to see if perhaps one of the neighboring property owners might be able to tell us who owned the well and maybe they’d allow us on the land for a photograph. We came across a farm house and were met by a kind and talkative gentleman named Don Johnson.


He told us about how the sound of the explosion woke him up at 5 a.m. The interview took place on his front lawn with the flickering gas well fire peeking between the trees. The fire could be heard making a loud roar even though we were hundreds of yards away. After first considering to climb up on a silo for a good photograph, Don suggested I climb the hill for a better view. So I ran up the hill with my most powerful lens and took the best pictures I could. Less than an hour later, the fire was put out.


Jess and I then drove back to the office. It was fun.