Late August we announced the completion of the first stage of FrackFinder, Project TADPOLE where we asked you all to help us identify and classify wellpads in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. We used state drilling data to identify 2,963 hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites that might have had drilling and fracking activity occur sometime in or after 2005. Why these dates? Because in 2005, 2008, and 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Aerial Imagery Program (NAIP) flew high resolution aerial photographic surveys, which you may already be familiar with from the “satellite” view in Google Maps. And because most of the drilling and fracking targeting the Marcellus Shale has happened since 2004.
At nearly 3,000 sites observed at each of the three years, we had almost 9,000 images for all of you to look at. For quality control, we had each image viewed and categorized by 10 different volunteers, making a grand total of around 90,000 tasks to perform. As colossal as that may sound, it took just 29 days for our 233 volunteers to complete the first phase of the project.
We’ve done some random spot-checking and number crunching and determined that if at least 8 out of 10 volunteers agree on a classification, the top answer is the correct answer. According to this confidence rating, 90% of our results were accepted as accurate. We’ve plowed through the last 10%, about 900 of the more ambiguous images that you all couldn’t quite agree on, and categorized them ourselves.
So we’ve analyzed the results — insert drum roll here… According to the FrackFinder project, in 2005, only 60 well pads – flattened dirt or gravel areas where one or more wells may be located – existed in the Marcellus Shale region of the state of Pennsylvania. In 2008, 410 new well pads were located. In the 2010 NAIP imagery, 950 additional new well pads were located. (I find the rate of increase in fracking activity quite noteworthy.) Total, our volunteers have found 1,420 well pads over the 5-year period.
For more detail, you can view the interactive map where you can zoom in on individual sites even link to an image of the well pad.
This is only the first step in a series of crowd-sourced projects with the goal of finding, mapping, and tracking the extent of the visible surface impact from every fracking site we can see.