FrackFinder: TADPOLE Pennsylvania Results

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.

Above: Animation of well pads from unconventional oil and gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania – 2005 (yellow), 2008 (orange), and 2010 (red)  – according to FrackFinder: TADPOLE – PA results.

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. 

FrackFinder 73% Complete: What’s Next?

Exactly two weeks ago, we officially launched the first stage of our new skytruthing initiative – FrackFinder: Project TADPOLE. Since the launch, our amazing volunteers have taken the project from 10% complete to 73% complete; that’s over 64,000  completed tasks (task = number of times an image is viewed and classified). 

Above is a live, interactive map that illustrates, by county, the progress that our FrackFinder volunteers have made toward completing all tasks for Pennsylvania. So far, we have focused on natural gas drilling and fracking in the Marcellus Shale region of William Penn’s woods. Now, we are working on preparing the next stage of this project, which expands FrackFinder to the Marcellus Shale region in another state – West Virginia. 
We continuously keep the lines of communication open with our volunteers and have gotten some great feedback. One volunteer shared with us an image that seems at first to be a bad photoshop job. The image, shown below, was captured by an aerial survey in 2010 over a permitted wellpad in Butler County, Pennsylvania. However, while it looks electronically manipulated, we believe that the image is really a sort of  real-world photoshop called hydroseeding. Hydroseeding is a reclamation process that involves spraying a slurry that contains seeds, fertilizer, mulch, and/or soil stabilizer, etc., on bare earth to help re-vegetate and prevent erosion.
Unconventional wellpad in Butler County, PA (2010), likely treated by hydroseeding.
While they missed a few spots, suggesting the job was done haphazardly, partial hydroseeding is at least better than leaving re-graded slopes bare and susceptible to erosion. More current imagery, found in Google Maps, shows the vegetation beginning to grow back in patches and at least part of the site plowed for agriculture. 
Have you seen anything out of the ordinary or interesting while using FrackFinder? Send us a screen capture of the image in question, including the location data (County, year, and the lat./long. coordinates) directly above and below the image. Also, if you would like to be a part of preparing and refining the the next stage of FrackFinder, please contact us.

FrackFinder: Tracking Our Progress

Last week we officially launched FrackFinder, a crowdsourced skytruthing project to find, map and track natural gas fracking sites. The first stage of the effort, Project TADPOLE, focuses on the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. Using data from drilling permits for fracking sites in PA and aerial survey photography taken by the National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP), we ask volunteers to identify what they see at each fracking site over a 5 year period. Thanks to an article the Washington Post published about our work here at SkyTruth, FrackFinder has been getting a lot of attention!

Within one week of the article’s release, Project TADPOLE gained 84 volunteer participants and jumped from 10% complete to 52%; that’s over 35,000 tasks (number of times an image is viewed by a volunteer) completed in one week. Of the 84 volunteers, 31 participated anonymously. Our anonymous volunteers averaged 49 tasks per person, and volunteers who chose not to work anonymously averaged 630. Impressively, several volunteers have completed thousands of tasks!

Progress of Project TADPOLE by county.

To keep everyone updated on the status of Project TADPOLE, we’ve created an interactive map that illustrates the progression of the project. The completion status for each county is measured independently and color coded accordingly. It is sort of exciting watching the counties change color as we move toward the finish line! Of this stage, that is.
We’ll soon need to prepare for the next stage of FrackFinder… TREE FROG?
 Stay tuned!


SkyTruth in The Washington Post

We’re pretty giddy around here today. The Washington Post just published an article and video all about SkyTruth on their website yesterday.  It will be the cover story on the print edition of this weekend’s Sunday magazine:

The opening makes us look like omniscient, see-all, Bourne-Identity-like uber-spies.  Rest assured the reality is a lot more, well, down to earth.  But the article does a great job describing some of the things we’re doing, and how we do them.  And with ever-changing technology and communication tools, the opening sequence may not be too far-fetched just a few short years from now.

We’re using this amazing technology to give everyone the ability to see and share what’s happening in the environment, be it just down the block or on the other side of the planet.  If you’d like to be part of this movement, please come and join us.  We’re looking for tech geeks and programmers, image analysts and graphics pros, fundraisers and financial supporters — people who want to apply their skills and effort to work on behalf of conservation.

And we’re looking for volunteer skytruthers who can spend a few minutes helping us with our first crowd-assisted image analysis project, FrackFinder, to find and map gas drilling and fracking sites.

It’s an exciting time to be at SkyTruth!  But it’s still a very big planet, and we can’t watch over it without your help.

FrackFinder: Mapping and Tracking Fracking Sites With Your Help

At SkyTruth, we work hard to make the unseen impacts of pollution and industrial development visible to the public. Our latest skytruthing effort is the FrackFinder. FrackFinder is a crowdsourced project to find, map, and track all sites where drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), occurs in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.

This project goes a step beyond plotting data from state and industry sources as “pins in a map,” because there is much more going on in the forests, fields, and public lands of the Marcellus Shale than a single point on a map can tell. There are many stages to the life of a well and drilling/fracking has a footprint far larger than just the individual well. Our tool utilizes the innovative concept of crowdsourcing to enable concerned citizens to easily look at thousand of images over multiple years, allowing them to contribute to scientific evaluation of shale gas issues and provide us with large quantities of reliable spatial information. Crowdsourcing, outsourcing the work of image analysis to volunteers (like yourself), is an integral part of our vision of skytruthing — where anyone can see the impact of human activity on our planet, and take action to protect the environment.

We are now launching the appropriately named Project TADPOLE. It is the first in a series of applications that make up the FrackFinder project. (Look out for different growth stages, and possibly different amphibians and reptiles, as our skytruthing project continues to evolve.)

Example of a drilling site with equipment, as shown in the TADPOLE crowdsourcing tool.
At this stage, we’ve gathered aerial survey photography taken by the National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP; the same high-resolution imagery used in Google Earth) in 2005, 2008, and 2010 and data extracted from drilling permits for fracking sites in the state of Pennsylvania. There are nearly 3,000 fracking sites across PA, and we are asking volunteers to classify the type of activity they see at these sites for each of the three years. That’s 9,000 separate image-analysis tasks. To ensure accuracy, we require each image to be viewed and classified by ten different volunteers. (Preliminary testing has provided us with impressive results; volunteers agree on what they see in an image 89% of the time.) This means there are 90,000 individual tasks — instances of an image being served up and classified — to be completed… Whew.
That’s where you come in!
Become a skytruther by participating in Project TADPOLE. First, please fill out our sign-up sheet so we can let you know how the project is progressing (we promise not to spam you). Then, go to Project TADPOLE and spend at least 20 minutes classifying drilling sites for us. And finally, we are still beta testing and we need your feedback so please tell us how your experience was on our Facebook page.

We are continually improving Project TADPOLE and will be adding features such as a “finished” button to exit the tool. But please know that your work is saved as you go!