FrackFinding Success in Three States

Since the launch of FrackFinder, we’ve found great success in our efforts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia enlisting the public to help us analyze aerial imagery across the Marcellus and Utica shale gas-drilling regions. The results have been unique datasets that are being used, or can be used, by researchers to study the impact fracking has on public health and the environment. What we’ve learned is helping us refine our tools and methods for future rounds of FrackFinder. Here we’ll give a rundown of the results of our efforts and what we’ve done with them, as well as links to the data we’ve made available free for public use.

Pennsylvania Fracking Sites Map

Our motivation behind the FrackFinder project was to fill gaps in publicly available information related to where fracking operations in the Marcellus Shale were taking place. Seeing an opportunity to make this info available to the public, but lacking state data, we began mapping fracking sites ourselves. The locations of drilling sites, also known as “well pads,” were hard to come by, but state permits for drilling individual oil and gas wells were easily accessible. Unfortunately drilling permits aren’t very useful on their own. The permits are just approvals to drill: they don’t say if the site is active, when drilling and fracking began or ended, or if development of the drill site ever happened at all. Luckily, each permit provides the exact location where the operator is authorized to drill their well. By pairing the location information from the permits with available high-resolution aerial survey photography from multiple years, it is possible for us to learn where active well pads are and narrow down when they were built to within a span of a couple of years.

Of course, analyzing multiple years’ worth of imagery for thousands of permit locations is a monumental task.  To get the job done, we looked to crowdsourcing to speed up the process. Crowdsourcing also gives us the opportunity to reach the public, get people interested in citizen science, and provide them the opportunity to see the impact of fracking for themselves. It’s important for people to understand the large footprint fracking has compared to historical oil and gas drilling in the region, and seeing just how close many well pads are to farms and homes can change some people’s perspective on the issue.

Timelapse image showing how close drilling is to homes, and how big modern fracking operations are.

Our first phase of FrackFinder took place in Pennsylvania.  For this project we had 3,000 locations to examine on three different years of imagery, and we asked 10 volunteers to look at every site: a grand total of  90,000 image analysis tasks. Participants were presented with an image of a location corresponding to a drilling permit and were asked to determine if the site was active or inactive on the basis of visible infrastructure.  All the tasks were knocked out in three weeks, thanks in part  to a Washington Post article mentioning the project published around the time of our FrackFinder launch. In the quality assurance phase, we found that if seven of the ten participants for a given task agreed there was active drilling then our experienced in-house analysts agreed with the crowd, so we established 70% crowd consensus as an acceptable threshold to confirm if there was indeed drilling at a location.  This first project went so well that we quickly supplemented it with another year of imagery.  The final map we produced shows the location of active well pads in imagery from 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2013, and we intend to update it with 2015 imagery in the near future.

Marcellus Shale fracking sites in Pennsylvania in 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2013. Click on this image to link to the full interactive map.

Pennsylvania Impoundments Map

Not long after publishing the data on well pad locations from the first phase, we were approached by researchers from Johns Hopkins University who were interested in our data. They wanted to study the public health impacts of living near a modern fracking site, and the state couldn’t provide anything comparable to what we had at the time. They were specifically interested in how volatile chemicals coming off drilling-related fluid impoundments would affect people living nearby. While we had locations for the wells from our first FrackFinder project, we didn’t have information on the size, location and timing of the impoundments that may contain drilling and fracking fluids.

Hydraulic fracturing-related fluid impoundments in Pennsylvania. Click on the image to link to the full interactive map.

Using the same imagery we had prepared for the first round of FrackFinder, we launched another round of crowd-assisted image analysis using the same methods to determine the presence of impoundments. After the public identified water bodies that were likely related to drilling, our analysts verified that they were impoundments and delivered the data to the researchers. The Pennsylvania FrackFinder project was the first time we used crowdsourcing to create a high-quality data set for use in actual research.  And it has paid off in improving the public’s understanding of the health risks posed by living near modern drilling and fracking activity. The Johns Hopkins researchers have published the following peer-reviewed studies based in part on our work:

Ohio Well Pads Map

Ohio was the first state outside of Pennsylvania to have its own FrackFinder spinoff. Instead of launching a public crowdsourcing project we enlisted the help of students at Walsh University in Ohio who were interested in studying the impact of fracking on the environment and looking to get experience with GIS image analysis. We asked students to delineate all terrain that was modified to accommodate the drilling activity, including forest clearcutting around actual fracking infrastructure. This not only provided an educational opportunity for the students, but it allowed us to build and experiment with tools we plan on using in the future to let the public delineate fracking sites and create complex polygons, rather than simply confirming the presence or absence of a well pad at a specific point. This work hasn’t been used for research yet, but it still produced a high-quality data set that is available to anyone who would wish to use it in the future to quantify the ecological footprint of fracking-related land use, and explore the habitat and ecosystem impacts of modern drilling and fracking.

Utica Shale fracking well pads in Ohio. Click on the image to link to the full interactive map so you can zoom in and see the outlines of fracking sites delineated by students at Walsh University.

West Virginia Well Pad and Impoundment Map

Due to time constraints, we conducted the first round of West Virginia FrackFinder internally, and now have a multiyear map and dataset showing the locations of Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling sites statewide. We plan on launching a new public FrackFinder round this summer using the same area delineation technique that was demonstrated in Ohio. In West Virginia, we delineated the footprints of well pads and fluid impoundments, but not the broader area of clearcutting and landscape modification surrounding the drilling sites as was done in Ohio. When we launch our next public FrackFinder round we will ask the public to delineate this “impact halo” around well pads to help determine the ecological footprint of fracking in the state.

Marcellus and Utica Shale fracking sites in West Virginia in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2014. Click on the image to link to the full interactive map.

 

Fracking-related fluid impoundments in West Virginia for the same years as the map above. Click to go to the full interactive map.

The data we produce for West Virginia is being used by researchers at UC Berkeley and at Downstream Strategies. They will perform a geospatial proximity analysis to see how fracking activity near sensitive populations in schools, hospitals, homes, and rehabilitation centers, paired with different chemicals used in fracking, affects public health. The results of their research will be detailed in a comprehensive white paper that will be published with policy makers in mind.

Freaky Fracking – Mapping How Wellpads are Carving Up Ohio

We don’t usually do seasonally-themed maps, but this map tracing the footprint of wellpads in Ohio’s Marcellus and Utica Shales just happens to work best with the colors associated with All Hallows Eve. Over the past year our FrackFinders and partners at Walsh University have helped us map shale drilling in eastern Ohio. Below you can see the total area of area of wellpads displayed using scaled “bubbles” which show the size of the wellpads relative to each other. This top-level view helps you see where drilling is the densest, and locate the largest and smallest wellpads. 



If you zoom in closer, you will see the actual outline of individual wellpads to scale. In this map there are 320 sites, all traced out by students at Walsh University participating in our FrackFinder collaborative image analysis projects. The median area of these wellpads is 13,787 square meters, or 3.4 acres. If you recall, we recently used this number to help visualize similar drilling in western Pennsylvania


The largest pad was 17 acres and the smallest pad was 0.6, and all told we found 1,100 acres of Ohio fields and forest converted to gravel wellpads. The total impact of drilling extends beyond just the wellpads we mapped in this phase of the project, so in future we will be working to repeat this approach in other states and looking at total landscape impacts. This tutorial video we created for the project will show you exactly what we’ve mapped here. 
 
 
Understanding the public and environmental impacts of drilling is complicated, especially since these industrial operations are scattered all across the landscape; some sites are remote while others are right next to homes and farms. But the data you help create in these projects enable SkyTruth and our partners to correlate this data about when and where drilling occurred with public health and environmental data. This research is starting to bear fruit as our partners at Johns Hopkins recently released a study showing that living in the most active quarter of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus gasfield was associated with a 40% increase in the likelihood of pregnant mothers giving birth prematurely. Scary indeed.

It’s Better Together – Host a FrackFinder Event to Help Map Fracking

As you may know, we’ve been working on Project FrackFinder–a multi-phase effort to map drilling and hydraulic fracturing using collaborative image analysis by citizen scientists like you. 

Not sure you want to sort through FrackFinder tasks on your own?  Enlist some friends and host a FrackFinder-A-Thon!  On February 28th, the Shepherd University Environmental Organization participated in the first ever FrackFinder-A-Thon.  They threw a pizza party and in only 2.5 hours, 15 people powered through 10,000 tasks!   

The following week, a group of University of San Francisco students were visiting Appalachia on a spring break immersion trip.  These Bay area students spent the day with us, FrackFinding and learning about skytruthing mining, drilling and other extractive industries.  Take a listen to this WV Public Radio piece to learn more about their experience. 
We need your help to finish the last 14% of tasks for Project Dart Frog. The sooner we do, the sooner Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School can start crunching numbers on their study of public health as it relates to fracking. Over 200 folks have contributed to the FrackFinder project so far, but we still need your help to keep things moving.
 
Need help in figuring out how to host your own FrackFinder-A-Thon at your school or in your community?  Let us know– kristy@skytruth.org!  We’d love to help you set one up.
 
Once Project Dart Frog concludes, we’ll embark on a new phase of group image analysis based upon YOUR findings.  

  

FrackFinder PA: Project Dart Frog to ID Fracking Ponds Across PA

Many thanks to our stellar volunteers for helping us power through the Moor Frog phase of our FrackFinder mission.  With the help of dozens of volunteers we were able to power through 4,140 sites and identify 7,835 ponds around active wellpads. Give yourselves some serious high-fives! 
BUT, our work is not done.  Today, we launch into a NEW PHASE of FrackFinder… Project Dart Frog!  So, get your sorting goggles on and recruit some friends and neighbors to help us with the project.
Our latest FrackFinder effort, Project Moor Frog was aimed at locating ponds near active wellpads across Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.  Most phases of FrackFinder build on previous projects, for example, we know where active wellpads based on the results of Project Tadpole Now we need you to help us sort out which of those ponds are related to fracking, and which aren’t.
 
 
This is one of the ponds skytruthers just like you helped find in Project Moor Frog. Now we need your help to sort out which of these are fracking ponds (like this one) and which ones are naturally occurring or man-made for other purposes like decoration or watering livestock.
 
Just to recap for you, FrackFinder PA is a multi-phase effort to map drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) across Pennsylvania using crowd-sourced image analysis of satellite and aerial imagery.  We’re asking volunteers like you to help us look through images of fracking sites and tell us what you see.  Ultimately, these projects will create a comprehensive map of drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania.  After Pennsylvania, our goal is to create this map for the whole United States!
This is a project specifically designed to support work we are doing with our partners at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Experts there are planning to use the FrackFinder data YOU produce to study the relationship between fracking and public health issues, but first they need to know where the fracking is!
Project Dart Frog is a simple sorting project and can easily be done on any computer or tablet with a decent internet connection. Not sure you’ve got the eyes for this job?  Don’t worry!  We provide you with a simple tutorial that will put you on the fast track to pond identification.
Spread the word.  Check it out.  Make a difference.


Image: Geoff Gallice – Couresty of Wikimedia Commons
About Dart Frogs: In keeping with our amphibian themed projects, Project Dart Frog invokes colorful little critters like this Strawberry Dart Frog. We thought since we’re asking you sort out the good ponds from fracking ponds, we’d pick a brightly colored family that’s full of red frogs, blue frogs, green frogs, and bad frogs (as in bad for anyone who wants to make a meal of them since they are toxic in the wild). It’s only appropriate, don’t you think? 

FrackFinder PA – Project Moor Frog: Help Us Start 2014 in the “Green”

This is NOT a fundraising request or a list of ways to be more “eco-friendly” in 2014. We figure you are already doing the best you can about those “green” things… 

The “green” we’re hoping for has to do with a frog – Project Moor Frog

 

 

This map shows the status of our current FrackFinder project, where we are asking skytruthers like you to find wastewater ponds and fracking pits in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. We’re 80% finished, but we need some fresh eyes with a little time to help us review aerial photos of fracking sites across the Keystone State. We show each image to ten different volunteers and some of our star volunteers (like Lori Marshall who has reviewed all 4,140 sites) have already looked over all the images for this phase of the project. That means we need new people to confirm their answers so we can build an accurate map of all the fracking activity in Pennsylvania. (More states are coming soon, but one step at a time). 

To help us out – click the button below, sign up and start skytruthing! We’ll give you a brief tutorial to show you how to find and mark ponds, then you can help us turn the rest of our progress map green!

And to add to the fun, we’re offering some SkyTruth goodies to the first person to find this unique-looking wellpad in Northern Pennsylvania…


Just be the first to let us know where you found this distinctive site (see the instructions below) and we’ll send you a limited edition embroidered patch from our skytruthing mission to North Dakota, SkyTruth stickers, and our eternal thanks!

Instructions: Once you start marking ponds in the FrackFinder app you will see a pop-up info box in the lower-right corner of your screen (see example below). Here you’ll find information about the image you are viewing and a link to “see this site in Google maps.” When you find the site shown above, click the Google Maps hyperlink and copy the URL from the page that opens. That link has the GPS coordinates of the mystery site and our custom site ID. Share the URL with us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SkyTruth) or send it an email to crowd@skytruth.org and we’ll be in touch to send you your winnings!


Be sure to open the pop-up box in the lower-right for more information on the site and to see the site in Google maps with the latest imagery.

2013 in Review: SkyTruth – the Friendly “Eyes in the Sky”

That was fast! We are almost back to that arbitrary point in the Earth’s orbit that most people recognize as the end of the year. That means you’re almost out of time to send some money to causes you care about in exchange for a smaller tax bill next year. So instead of letting Congress decide (or not decide) what to do with your tax dollar, we’re hoping you might make a donation to your friendly eyes in the sky – SkyTruth. 

To recap what we have done for conservation and environmental awareness in 2013, here are some highlights from our most recent trip around the sun…


Testimony to Congress: In May, we were invited to testify before Congress on an upcoming rule that would govern hydraulic fracturing on millions of acres of public land. We gave our recommendations about how to make fracking more transparent, but were disappointed by the very misleading debate about the risks and alleged safety of fracking. Later in the year we addressed some of industry’s favorite claims about fracking in a piece titled: Word Games are Misleading the American Public About Fracking.

Washington Post Magazine: But even before John sat down in front of members of Congress, word of our work with satellite imagery and big data had caught the attention of editors at the Washington Post Magazine. In August, thousands of people opened their Sunday paper to find a feature story about SkyTruth – your “Eye in the Sky.” This story opened the door for opportunities to speak at major actors in the science and environmental community such as NASA Goddard, the World Wildlife Federation, and the World Bank. 
 


You don’t have to donate money to help SkyTruth, we need your help to finish mapping fracking ponds in our latest FrackFinder project. Sign up and start skytruthing! 

FrackFinder: This year we also took a big step toward creating the skytruthing movement, with two FrackFinder projects that allow anyone to help us map the environmental impacts of shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Right now we are asking volunteers to help us find fracking waste ponds so researchers at Johns Hopkins can find out if there is a correlation between fracking and health problems caused by air pollution. In the near future we hope to expand these collaborative image analysis projects to new states and other issues like oil spills and mining. 

Skytruthing the Bakken: With growing public attention on wasteful natural gas flaring in the Bakken Shale, and new satellite data to help us investigate the problem, over 65 people generously helped us raise $4,100 to launch a skytruthing mission in western North Dakota. On the night of Sept. 1, we launched cameras and sensors on a high-altitude weather balloon over the oilfield, and recovered the rig 135 miles away near the town of Zap. We’re editing a short documentary about this expedition and we plan to release it early next year in conjunction with a dynamic map of global flaring activity. 

MTR Database: Our database tracking the footprint of mountaintop removal (MTR) mining in Appalachia continues to be used in ground-breaking research on this destructive mining practice. Two new peer-reviewed papers citing our database were released in 2013, one measuring the increased occurrence of depression in regions impacted by MTR and the other tallying the cumulative affects of mining on forest cover and other less-studied variables in mined ecosystems. The full list of studies supported by this unique satellite-derived database can be found on our redesigned website – www.skytruth.org.

YOU are the future of SkyTruth!

We’ve had a lot of milestones in 2013, but we need your help to carry the momentum forward into the new year. We’re making big steps toward launching a skytruthing movement, taking imagery and putting it where anyone can help study issues like fracking through simple image analysis tasks. We’re cultivating ways to use satellites to tackle illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing on the far side of the globe and tracking wasteful natural gas flaring around the world. 


The area in red marks the extent of MTR mining in West 
Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, as of 2005. 
Your support can help us update this important dataset.

 

In 2014 we need to overcome the technical limitations that have prevented us from updating our FracFocus database since June, and we hope to map new mountaintop mining since 2005. Ultimately, we aim inspire the skytruthing movement, where anyone can easily access the data and imagery needed to understand environmental issues and protect the places you care about.

If you can see it, you can change it…



P.S.Don’t wait! The Earth is hurtling toward the end of the year at 67,062 miles per hour!

FrackFinders Wanted! Help us Skytruth Fracking Ponds in PA!

Do you care about the public and environmental health issues associated with fracking, have a computer, and are at least a little familiar with Google Maps?

Then you can help map fracking ponds all across Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale!

UPDATE: Project Moor Frog was completed in January 2014, check our frack.skytruth.org/frackfinder to see the latest FrackFinder project. We will not have results to share with the public until Project Dart Frog is finished, so help us complete this next phase!

 


This week we are launching a crowdmapping tool called FrackFinder PA: Project Moor Frog. In this version of FrackFinder we took all of the active drilling sites that volunteers found in Project Tadpole and created an easy-to-use website for volunteers to take a closer look at these sites. Now we’re asking volunteers to mark all the ponds big enough to be associated with drilling and fracking. There’s nothing to download, no special GIS experience, and we’ll show you everything you need to know in a brief tutorial. All you need is a good internet connection, a computer with an internet browser, and some time to help us find ponds.


We really need your help with this project because there is currently no map of these ponds that can contain millions of gallons of wastewater from drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Additionally, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has requested this map to support their study of public health issues related to air quality degradation from this industrial activity.


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals evaporating from these ponds could be a factor in air pollution, a hypothesis supported by a number of federal reports from western Pennsylvania earlier this year. 

In July 2013 a fracking waste pond referred to as the “Carter Impoundment” (above) was reported by five different neighbors for noxious chemical odors. This kind of air quality degradation could have serious health impacts but we won’t know for sure without good data.
For several weeks in July, SkyTruth Alerts picked up federal pollution reports of “strong odors” and an “acid petroleum smell” coming from a fracking pond near McDonald, PA. The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC) received a total of ten reports from five separate addresses over the course of several weeks. One report even indicated VOC levels 56 times higher than acceptable industrial levels at a private residence over 1,000 yards from the pond. 

Your help with this project will help scientists better understand the environmental and public health issues associated with these ponds and fracking as a whole. Check it out and volunteer at: 

About FrackFinder: Our vision is for a world where people can see the environmental impact on the planet AND take action to protect it. To do that, we’re working to build a skytruthing movement of citizens using aerial and satellite imagery to monitor environmental change and produce real data that will inform science and decisionmakers.

Just like Silicon Valley picks zany categories to name different phases of their products, we’re naming FrackFinder projects after quirky critters. So far our project names are all frog-related because who loves a (well)pad more than a frog?

Common Moor Frog  – Piet Spaans via Wikimedia Commons