August 11, 2010

News 8 Investigates Team Probes "Dangerous Couplings: The Buried and the Dead" in an August 14 Half-Hour Special on WFAA-TV

WFAA Honored with Rare Dupont-Columbia Gold Baton for Atmos Energy Investigation

What started as an early morning explosion in small town Wylie, Texas destroying a home and killing an elderly couple inside, sparked a critical WFAA news investigation. Since that day in April 2006, the station's reporting of this story has sent shock waves through Texas' oil and gas regulatory agency, resulting in lawmakers, families and victims demanding massive changes in the name of public safety.

"This is as significant an investigation as we have ever reported," said Michael Valentine, WFAA vp/news, "The results of this series of News 8 reports that unfolded over a long period of time will ultimately help protect lives and property, and help make communities all over the state of Texas safer places to live and work. We are pleased and proud to present this program that chronicles the years of investigative research and reporting that went into this important news story."

"Dangerous Couplings: the Buried and the Dead" is a WFAA half-hour special, set for broadcast on Saturday, August 14, at 6:30 p.m. It explores a 4-year station investigation into questionable equipment and maintenance, and the alarming results.

In the spring of 2006 the bodies of Benny and Martha Cryer were recovered more than two-dozen feet from their house, literally blown out of bed by a violent explosion. Serious questions immediately surfaced. The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas and oil pipeline safety statewide, investigated suggesting that shifting soil may have been the culprit. Others weren't so sure. A year earlier Atmos Energy had conducted a survey in the area and found no gas leaks in the Cryer's neighborhood. Officials' claims that the more than 2 million miles of underground gas pipeline in Texas was the safest energy delivery system in the US, yet homes continued to explode resulting in more injuries and deaths.

By the fall of 2007 WFAA's Brett Shipp and the News 8 Investigates team had already begun the process of looking into equipment, including couplings they believed were the root cause of the explosions. Eventually Shipp and News 8 Investigates exposed the problem and the shocking lack of action. "Dangerous Couplings: the Buried and the Dead" goes through the history, the leaks, allegations of cover-ups and a just-announced statewide program that will force the unprecedented replacement of several million of the faulty couplings across Texas for the sake of public safety.

Last year WFAA was honored for work on this investigative series and several other news stories in rare fashion. While the station had been recognized over the years with numerous duPont-Columbia University Silver Batons, broadcast journalism's equivalent of the famed Pulitzer Prize, this was the first time a local television station had ever been awarded the organization's prestigious Gold Baton for excellence in investigative journalism.

"Awards and national recognitions, such as the duPont, are certainly gratifying and we are grateful," said Valentine. "However, the true satisfaction comes in the form of presenting important information, staying with a story over the course of years in this case, and ultimately making north Texas communities' safer places to live."

WFAA is part of Belo Corp. (BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly traded television companies, that owns and operates 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated Web sites. Belo stations, which include affiliations with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW and MyNetwork TV, reach more than 14 percent of U.S. television households in 15 highly-attractive markets. Belo stations rank first or second in nearly all of their local markets. Additional information is available at www.belo.com or by contacting Dave Muscari, WFAA vice president/product development at 214-977-6490.