National attention was paid last week to the release of a drily written piece of research from the US Geological Survey. Reports from geologists customarily don’t make the national news, but with fracking and its impact on the natural gas sector – and thereby on the broader US economy – at the core of a broad and high-volume debate over energy policy and environmental tradeoffs, even the most opaque data sets become a subject of fascination.

Water quality data sets were gathered, but the USGS specifically held off from interpretation. The industry and opponents of fracking are currently weighing the results of the so-called “Pavillion report” for indications of early support for their claims that groundwater is – or isn’t – at risk from oil and gas development activities as currently practiced.

Science is getting its moment in the sun; how long will data form the basis of the discussion over a highly contentious practice?