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A Simple Question

Published Thursday Aug 14, 2014

Author Matthew J. Mowry

It started with a simple question from our publisher, Heidi Copeland, when she was reviewing export information included in our July issue. “How is oil and gas listed as the second largest NH export?

But that question turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to answer as Associate Editor Erika Cohen soon found out. Making dozens of calls to state officials and experts across the state, Erika quickly discovered no one seemed to know where this mysterious export was generated.

Undeterred, Erika doggedly pursued the story. After all, NH has been touting its status as the state with the fastest growing export rate in the country. However, if oil is the biggest contributor to that growth, where is it coming from?

While we still haven’t uncovered the full story behind that statistic, Erika did learn that the oil reported as being “exported” from NH neither originates here nor ends up here. What’s more, while it passes through, it’s not even the final U.S. stop before ending up in Canada.

When contacted with this information and asked if it has any bearing on future state policy or tactics when it comes to exports, state leaders were not only loathe to talk about it, but essentially buried their heads in the sand.

Erika’s inquiries were met with responses such as, “Even without oil in the mix, NH’s exports are strong.” While our exports are strong, they are hardly growing at the breakneck speed portrayed in press releases. Take oil out and our exports grew by less than 1 percent last year.

For the first time, we released a story online prior to its publication in the magazine and gave subscribers to our email alerts a sneak peek in mid-July. The story was quickly retweeted and reader response poured in—the most feedback we’ve received on a single story. “This is incredible. Erika and everyone at BNH Magazine are to be congratulated for pulling back the veil on this one!” one states, while from another, “Fantastic reporting! Facts are always what we need but not what we usually get.” And another sent this, “Awesome homework and certainly a cautionary tale about getting caught up in the spin cycle.”  

It’s not news that statistics don’t tell the whole story. But it is disheartening when state officials treat them as such. It’s hard to appreciate the beating of chests in Concord when our gains were the result of a nationally accepted accounting practice that brings little value to the state.

It underscores the wisdom of Mark Twain, who famously proclaimed, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

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