2021 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Small Newsroom winner

At Risk, In the Dark

Judges comments

This investigation raises the subject of many contracts with hidden conditions and how they can harm lives, especially from the most vulnerable populations. Reporter Rebecca Moss really dug into the subject from Census detail, public records requests, numerous interviews and traveled the length of the pipeline noting vulnerable buildings and communities.

About the Project

In “At Risk, In the Dark,” Spotlight PA reporter Rebecca Moss spent a year chronicling one of the most controversial infrastructure projects in Pennsylvania history. Through public records fights, deep research, and extensive shoe-leather reporting, Moss painstakingly documented how a hugely influential oil and gas company, Sunoco, has taken advantage of the state’s limited resources and weak oversight, and used a more than decade-old state law intended to prevent terrorism to instead keep thousands of residents, emergency responders, and even public officials in the dark and ill-prepared to save lives should an accident occur.

While there have been years of piecemeal coverage of the Mariner East natural gas liquids pipeline system, Moss crafted the definitive investigation by avoiding tired storylines of NIMBY fights and fear-mongering to instead cut to the heart of community concern: the safety of residents, especially the vulnerable, and what to do if something went wrong. The reporting was sparked by a legislative hearing in August 2019, in which lawmakers complained a secrecy law passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was being used to shield critical public safety information.

The investigation revealed Pennsylvania has a dangerously incomplete and patchwork system of emergency preparedness hampered by state and corporate secrecy, and, as a result, lives are at risk should something go wrong. Existing emergency plans fail to consider the unique risk of the chemicals flowing through Mariner East, as well as the unique needs of children, the elderly, and the disabled who live along the pipeline’s path.