2013 Online


Bob Ackley spent his life working the streets for some of America's biggest gas companies. More recently, with the help of Boston University's Nathan Phillips, he has been tracking the gas that leaks from underground pipelines, all with full knowledge of the industry. He has concluded that the amount of natural gas leaking beneath city streets is far greater than previously realized. Some scientists now believe such leaks may be helping to accelerate climate change in a way that few had suspected — even as governments worldwide are backing natural gas as an alternative to coal. McKenna's story, written for MATTER, a new online site dedicated to long-form science journalism, introduced readers to Ackley and his dogged pursuit of urban gas leaks, including his decoding of clues such as fungal growth at the base of trees and gooey black soil that were signs of leaks. For Phillips, who began his scientific career studying the physiology of trees, it was an eye-opening experience. "Science is all too often something that is only done by scientists in a formal laboratory setting," McKenna said. "It was fascinating to profile a gas company whistle blower who turned some of the world's leading climate scientists on to a problem lurking literally right beneath their feet." Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press called the story "enthralling and well-written," bringing to light a little-known problem. John Carey, a freelance science writer, called it a "wonderful narrative using a compelling character to illuminate one of the important issues in climate science."