His reporting is black gold.

As an energy reporter, Fowler’s challenges range from corporate wrongdoing at BP to a hog farmer who threatened bodily harm.
As an energy reporter, Fowler’s challenges range from corporate wrongdoing at BP to a hog farmer who threatened bodily harm.

Tom Fowler ’92 is a Houston-based energy reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he landed after covering the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for The Houston Chronicle. Despite receiving 600 emails a day, he took the time to answer some of our burning energy questions.

What do you see as the big energy trends of 2013?
Based on the stories I’ve reported and written, U.S. oil production will likely continue to grow significantly this year, many oil companies remain on the fence about how they’re going to approach drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and it’s a good time to be the owner of a pipeline or railroad that can move crude oil around the country.

How often do friends and family ask you about gas prices? You must be a hit at parties.
Most people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about the factors behind pump prices: global oil prices, the logistics of moving oil from the well to refineries, the different seasonal blends of gasoline required in some cities to reduce smog, unprofitable refineries being shut down and thus tightening supply and speculators betting on future prices. So I don’t get too many repeat party invites.

Speaking of which … gas prices. Where’s the relief?
It doesn’t appear we’re going to see gas prices like we saw early last decade (under $2 per gallon) unless global oil prices go down significantly. The surge in U.S. oil production might help—some parts of the country have seen lower gasoline prices than others due to an oversupply of oil. But oil is still largely priced globally.

What’s your biggest scoop?
I’ve done pretty well reporting on the criminal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill, including the fact that there could be charges that BP lied about the size of the spill (the company pleaded guilty to that and one executive has been indicted). It’s a good day when The New York Times, Bloomberg News and Reuters have to credit your story because they aren’t able to confirm it themselves.

Besides the time former Drew president Tom Kean called you up from his car phone when you were working for The Acorn, what was your most memorable interview and why?
Before I joined The Wall Street Journal I had a pretty interesting interview with Ted Turner, just because he told some good off-the-record stories. I also interviewed convicted Ponzi-schemer Allen Stanford, who came across at the time as a convincing actor playing the part of a wrongly accused man. I’ll never forget the lengthy background interviews I did with a former Enron exec who nervously sipped down a half dozen Diet Dr. Pepper sodas at a Bennigan’s while explaining to me how the company worked. An onsite interview with a hog farmer in North Carolina, where he explained the intricacies of hog waste, was also memorable: A day earlier he threatened to shoot me if he ever saw me on his property.

Who’s tougher? Drew professors or WSJ editors?
They’re pretty closely matched. I remember the trepidation of writing for Professor Bob Ready’s classes. He took the writing craft seriously and expected you to treat it with respect. He was supportive and encouraging of sincere effort, but praise from him had to be earned. And that’s how it should be.

The Journal editors take the reporting craft just as seriously. Any day I have a story on deck for the next day’s paper I know my afternoon will be taken up by what I call a “polite pummeling” via email from editors in New York. It’s a steady stream of questions: “Who’s your source for this? Why does this happen? Can you expand on this topic here?” You can’t get away with just phoning it in. If there’s a hole in your story, it has to be filled or that story doesn’t run. But every email you send to them is followed up with a “thank you.” It’s an extremely courteous place.—Interview by Ted Johnsen ’07

Follow Fowler on Twitter. @HoustonFowler