An investigation of deaths in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota has been named a finalist for an award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

The project, led by reporter Jennifer Gollan, revealed how top oil companies dodge accountability for workers’ deaths. It prompted the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up enforcement in the Bakken and North Dakota state lawmakers to draft legislation intended to protect workers.

In awarding the honor in the energy category to the team from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, judges said: “The gripping narrative does an excellent job in interweaving an oil-field disaster, strong human interest and public interest. The piece highlights injustice and the blind eye turned toward it in the interest of greed.”

Judges noted that the series had “led to state and federal efforts to tighten enforcement and improve safety accountability” and added that the team had “masterfully complemented the stories with several multimedia elements.”

The investigation was published on RevealNews.org and in Politico Magazine. A television version was broadcast on PBS NewsHour, and a radio segment ran on our “Reveal” public radio show and podcast.

In addition, Medium and Mother Jones ran some of the follow-up stories.

Other Reveal journalists involved with the project included Emmanuel Martinez, David Ritsher, Delaney Hall, Ariane Wu, Adithya Sambamurthy, Amanda Pike and Rachel de Leon.

The investigation also inspired a play, “North by Inferno,” which opened in North Dakota last fall before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” cited the findings of Gollan’s investigation in a segment focused on oil worker safety.

Taking top honors in the 2015 contest’s energy category was an investigation by the Associated Press, which uncovered how the U.S. power grid is vulnerable to hackers. Along with the Bakken series, another finalist in the energy category was InsideClimate News, which examined Exxon’s efforts to discredit climate science.


Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.