Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can A Report Be Too Technical?

The EPA released the report, PAVILLION AREA GROUNDWATER INVESTIGATION Pavillion, Fremont County, Wyoming on August 30, 2010 which concludes groundwater contamination in the production area from hydraulic fracturing. You can read the report at the link just provided.  What caught my attention more than anything in picking up this report to read is the over the top use of acronyms in the introduction.
Using only the acronyms, the first introductory paragraph reads:

This ARR for the ESI at the Pavillion Area GW Investigation site (CERCLIS ID# WYN000802735) in Fremont County, Wyoming, has been prepared to satisfy the requirements of TDD No. 0901-01 issued to UOS under the EPA Region 8 START 3 Contract No. EP-W-05-050....Field activities were conducted from January 18 to January 22, 2010, in Pavillion, Wyoming. Field activities followed the SI format during the ESI, applicable UOS TSOPs, and the QAPP (UOS 2005b; UOS 2005a). This ARR is intended to be used in conjunction with the FSP (UOS 2010).
Got it?  I'll give copious props to anyone who can translate this paragraph by completing all the abbreviations.  Well I know no one can do it, so I'm going to provide them for you - just so you fully understand this report.

They are:

ARR = Analytical Results Report
ESI = Expanded Site Inspection
GW = Groundwater
CERCLIS = Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System
TDD = Technical Direction Document
UOS = URS Operating Services, Inc.  (clever - using an acronym inside an acronym)
EPA = Environmental Protection Agency  (or perhaps Extraordinary Participation of Acronyms)
START 3 = Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team 3
SI = Site Inspection
TSOPs = Technical Standard Operating Procedures
QAPP = Generic Quality Assurance Project Plan  (they obviously tried to trip us up on this one)
FSP = Field Sampling Plan

After suffering through the introduction, quite frankly I didn't care a whole lot about what they found in the way of fracking impacts, and I still haven't read the rest of the report yet.  I'm guessing these EPA report writers must have completed a special Rosetta Stone course before this assignment.  Just haven't figured out which one yet.


  1. I could not agree more with your aversion to the over use of acronyms. Not only does it make such reports incomprehensible to laypeople, but it contributes to sense of separation between government and the public. Such reports may be appropriate when the intended audience is other bureaucrats, but should always be accompanied by an executive summary in laymen's terms.

  2. Mike:

    To be fair, the introduction did contain the full language with the acronyms immediately following in (parents), but it was still quite a chore to get through. And it is impossible to remember all the acronyms as they tend to continue on only with the abbreviations. Your point of this style of writing separating government from the people is dead on - I just wonder if it is intentional or not. Thanks for the comments.