PA FrackFinder Screenshot

Pennsylvania FrackFinder Data Update

We’re excited to announce the 2015 update to our Pennsylvania FrackFinder data set! Using the USDA’s most recent high-resolution aerial imagery for Pennsylvania, we’ve updated our maps of the state’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments. Our revised maps show Pennsylvania’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments as of Fall 2015.

Our previous Pennsylvania FrackFinder project identified the location of active well pads in imagery from 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. We are pleased to add the 2015 update to this already rich data set.

The goal of our FrackFinder projects has always been to fill the gaps in publicly available information related to where fracking operations in the Marcellus and Utica Shale were taking place. Regrettably, there are often discrepancies between what’s on paper and what’s on the landscape. Permits for individual oil and gas wells are relatively accessible, but the permits are just approvals to drill: they don’t say if a site is active, when drilling and fracking began or ended, or if development of the drill site ever happened at all.

We compared permit locations against high-resolution aerial imagery from the USDA’s 2015 National Agricultural Inventory Program (NAIP) to determine whether drilling permits issued since the close of our last Pennsylvania FrackFinder project in 2013 were active. There were more than 4,500 drilling permits issued in Pennsylvania during our study period (May 1, 2012,  to September 30, 2015), many of them located quite close together. Ultimately, we ended up with roughly 2,000 unique ‘clusters’ of drilling permits to investigate and map.

We look forward to seeing how the public will use these revised data sets. We hope researchers, NGOs and community advocates can use these unique data sets to gain a better understanding of the impact of fracking on Pennsylvania’s environment and public health.

The remnants of a likely bilge dump (dark streak) possibly from a vessel traveling north to a tanker “parking lot” (the cluster of dozens of bright spots, each representing a vessel at anchor) off the coast of United Arab Emirates.

From Monitoring for Bilge-Dumping to Analyzing Coal Mining Activity and Mapping a Proposed Pipeline Expansion, My Year in Review

International Projects

This summer, SkyTruth began monitoring bilge dumping “hotspots.” I focused my monitoring efforts in the coastal waters surrounding the United Arab Emirates and Oman or the “tip” of the Arabian Peninsula. I began by visiting the European Space Agency’s datahub (and USGS) daily and downloading tons of imagery. The downloading of imagery was tedious and time-consuming. Using Google Earth Engine, we created scripts to input an AOI and automatically queue up all the imagery in a specified date range, which is easy. But Earth Engine has a lag time ingesting new imagery from various satellites, so I still need to manually download from ESA’s data hub to obtain the most recent imagery. I customized different versions of the script with different AOIs covering the coastal waters I wanted to monitor.

The remnants of a likely bilge dump (dark streak) possibly from a vessel traveling north to a tanker “parking lot” (the cluster of dozens of bright spots, each representing a vessel at anchor) off the coast of United Arab Emirates.

The remnants of a likely bilge dump (dark streak) possibly from a vessel traveling north to a tanker “parking lot” (the cluster of dozens of bright spots, each representing a vessel at anchor) off the coast of United Arab Emirates.

Bilge is an oily liquid that accumulates in the bottom of the hull, and vessel operators will sometimes just dump it overboard. If the vessel is moving while bilge dumping, then the slick appears on radar satellite imagery as a long, skinny, black line. But if a vessel releases the fluid while anchored then the slick can appear as an irregular black patch. There are examples of both above and below. Sometimes the vessel would still be in the range of its environmental “gift.” Then we could report on that vessel as the likely culprit evidenced by satellite imagery. Satellites don’t lie.

The Nordic Jupiter, a crude oil tanker, anchored offshore Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, and located at the likely source of an apparent oil slick, suggesting a leak or possibly intentional bilge dumping.

The Nordic Jupiter, a crude oil tanker, anchored offshore Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, and located at the likely source of an apparent oil slick, suggesting a leak or possibly intentional bilge dumping.

Domestic Projects

Much of my time was spent on the Google Earth Engine surface mining identification process, which involved using Landsat satellite imagery to create a composite of only the greenest pixels from each year’s summer months and creating a NDVI band from that composite. The purpose was to identify bare rock and soil typical of active strip-mining operations, like mountaintop removal mining (MTR) to extract coal.

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is a ratio of a pixel’s red value to its near-infrared value. Vegetation absorbs most visible light but reflects the infrared, while bare surfaces reflect both. A low NDVI value indicates a bare surface and a high NDVI value indicates healthy vegetation. By masking out all urban areas, streets, railroads, etc., the only large bare surfaces left in our Appalachia study area are large-scale coal mining operations.

This process requires a lot of satellite imagery. To accomplish this, I used Google Earth Engine, a cloud-based platform with access to satellite imagery collections and various geospatial datasets, including the entire archive of Landsat images going back into the early 1970s.

In central Appalachian states like West Virginia, mountaintop removal is the process of removing the several top layers of rock to expose coal seams. It is a resource-intensive process that results in massive landscape change.  As much as 85% of federal coal comes from Wyoming and Montana, specifically the Powder River Basin. My job was to attempt to adapt our process designed around Appalachia to the flat, dry shrublands of Wyoming and document the results.

The first step was creating a new area of interest (AOI). In Wyoming, the Powder River Basin spans two counties in Wyoming (Converse and Campbell), and those county boundaries formed the study area. The next step was creating the mask to eliminate areas that we didn’t want to analyze. That process involved downloading GIS shapefiles for hydrology (lakes/ponds, rivers/streams), urbanized areas, roads, railways, and oil & gas drilling sites. Shapefiles are georeferenced to represent these features on a map accurately. To create the mask, these shapefiles were merged and converted to a binary image. We could exclude these elements from the analysis because some were misidentified as active mining.

Coal mining in Black Thunder coal mine, WY from 1985 (in green) to 2015 (in red) overlain on 2015 aerial survey photography (NAIP).

Annual progress of landscape disruption caused by coal mining at the Black Thunder coal mine, WY, from 1985 (green) to 2015  red) overlain on 2015 aerial survey photography (NAIP).

I also worked with Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors on Mountaineer Gas Company’s proposed pipeline across the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. A very rough, general path for the pipeline had been published, but the particular route is not being shared by the company or state regulators. To give the public a more precise view of the pipeline’s likely route, Tracy visited county courthouses and gathered publicly available information about easements purchased by the gas company on dozens of properties in the area. She shared that information with us. We combined it with a public GIS layer for tax parcels that includes the outlines of residential and commercial properties. By using Google Earth to view all of the properties that had sold easements to the gas company, a more detailed pipeline path began to take shape through Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties. I discussed some assumptions about pipeline construction with the Protectors (to minimize construction costs a pipeline will take the shortest route between two points, but will also avoid sharp turns and steep slopes, excessive road and stream crossings, and when possible will keep clear of homes and other structures. With that in mind, I analyzed the Google Earth imagery and manually traced what I considered to be the likely pipeline path through our own Eastern Panhandle. The map shown below is our “best guess” based on the easement information provided by Tracy, and the very crude maps made public by Mountaineer.

The hypothetical Mountaineer pipeline path (dashed red line) overlain in Google street-view. The proposed pipeline enters Morgan County at upper left across the Potomac River and continues through Berkeley and Jefferson County.

The hypothetical Mountaineer pipeline path (dashed red line) overlain in Google street-view. The proposed pipeline enters Morgan County at upper left across the Potomac River and continues through Berkeley and Jefferson County.

My time as a SkyTruth intern was divided among a diverse set of projects, and it was certainly well spent. I’ve garnered an in-depth understanding of GIS and satellite imagery processing, map-editing, and worked in a team environment to accomplish complex tasks. Satellite images offer so much more than their beauty. I conclude my time at SkyTruth a true believer in the power of satellite imagery for environmental conservation. If you can see it, you can change it!

 

Harvey Spill Tracker

New Citizen Pollution Reporting Tool, Now Available for Hurricanes

We’ve launched the SkyTruth Spill Tracker, a map-based tool to allow citizens on the ground in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to quickly report oil and hazardous waste spills and other pollution incidents as a result of the storms.  

You can access the Tracker via mobile or desktop browsers at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org, or via the Ushahidi mobile app

Pollution Spill Tracker

Submit your report at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org

We operated a similar tool, the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, during and after the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010.  We also helped the Louisiana Bucket Brigade launch their iWitness Pollution Map. If you’re reporting pollution in Louisiana, you might prefer to use the iWitness map.

How to Submit a Report

Click the + symbol in the upper left corner of the map to report oil, chemical or hazardous waste spills. Follow the prompts to enter a brief description of what you see. If you are able, please upload a photo or video showing the incident and hit submit.

A technology-driven non-profit with a mission to protect the environment by making more of it visible, SkyTruth launched this reporting tool to enable citizens to report environmental pollution as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Read more about related work after the BP oil spill, the Taylor Energy oil spill, and Hurricane Katrina.

We believe if people can easily communicate their needs, organizations and governments can more effectively respond. Federal and state authorities will be able to download the reports in a standard *.csv format, readable by any spreadsheet or database software.

Contact Us

With your help, the SkyTruthSpillTracker should prove to be a useful resource for aiding the response and recovery efforts throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. We encourage everyone impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to use the tracker. We are also interested in coordinating with other groups organizing similar pollution reporting efforts on the ground. Please email suggestions to us at info@skytruth.org.

 

 

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the floodwaters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill.

Satellite Images Begin to Show Hurricane Harvey’s Environmental Impact

Our thoughts continue to be with the people of the Gulf Coast, as they start to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Harvey. The Hurricane turned out to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history, dropping an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana.  

Harvey’s environmental impact is among the many consequences felt by residents. While many are still displaced, they are also dealing with all manner of air and water contamination from damaged petrochemical infrastructure. The cleanup has only just begun.

In the days since the Hurricane, we have been examining a wide variety of satellite imagery and datasets to help us try to understand the scope and environmental consequences of this catastrophic storm.

Satellite Imagery Shows Flooding of Well Pads and Impoundments in the Region

So far we have seen multiple drilling sites, and possibly drilling-related fluid impoundments, that have been inundated by floodwaters. It is highly likely that any drilling chemicals held in the impoundments have escaped into the floodwaters if those impoundments were submerged. Here are a few examples, looking at four locations along the Guadalupe River near Hochheim, Texas.

Index map showing the examples of flooded drilling sites below. All of the examples are from RapidEye 3 satellite imagery collected on August 30, and made publicly available thanks to the International Disaster Charter.

Index map showing the examples of flooded drilling sites below. All of the examples are from RapidEye 3 satellite imagery collected on August 30 and made publicly available by Planet thanks to the International Disaster Charter.

Site 1. A flooded drilling site (well pad) and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment, 1.7 miles northwest of Hochheim. The nearest home is about 400 yards from the impoundment. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering

Site 1. A flooded drilling site (well pad) and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment, 1.7 miles northwest of Hochheim. The nearest home is about 400 yards from the impoundment. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering. The operator for the wells at this site is EOG Resources, Inc.

Site 2. Four flooded drilling sites and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment two miles west of Hochheim. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering.

Site 2. Four flooded drilling sites and possibly a flooded drilling-related fluid impoundment two miles west of Hochheim. A low berm around the impoundment may have prevented floodwaters from entering. The operator for the wells is Burlington Resources O&G Co. LP.

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the floodwaters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill.

Site 3. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately 1 to 1.25 miles west of Dreyer. The color of the flood waters here suggests a possible oil or chemical spill. The operator for the wells connected to this site is EOG Resources, Inc.

Harvey Flooded Impoundment 4

Site 4. Multiple flooded drilling sites approximately two miles southwest of Dreyer. The operator for the wells is EOG Resources, Inc.

Drilling in floodplains is a risky thing to do. Placing storage tanks and open fluid impoundments in flood zones is especially ill-advised. Reports of oil spills caused by flooded storage tanks that have floated off their foundations suggest new regulations need to be enacted to ensure tanks are firmly anchored to their foundations. We saw similar incidents after the flooding along the Colorado Front Range a couple of years ago. Operators, please tie down those tanks!