SkyTruth Releases Dynamic Map of Global Flaring

SkyTruth is releasing a dynamic map of satellite data visualizing the wasteful practice of natural gas flaring around the world. The SkyTruth Global Flaring Visualization compiles nightly infrared data from NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite, and filters it to display gas flares associated with oil and gas production. The map is a direct result of a crowdfunded groundtruthing mission last year in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale where flares light up the night sky.

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 4.18.02 AM

Flaring from a Bakken shale wellpad just outside Williston, North Dakota, as seen by a camera aboard a high-altitude balloon launched by SkyTruth and Space for All in Sept. 2013.

“This new tool makes the scale and frequency of flaring more comprehensible and less abstract,” said Paul Woods, Chief Technology Officer at SkyTruth. “Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource,” Woods continued.

Also released today, SkyTruth’s partners at Earthworks have produced a report on flaring in the Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, finding that North Dakota drillers have reported burning $854 million in natural gas since 2010 and that neither state independently tracks how much gas has been lost forever through flaring. Earthworks also calculated that the 130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas.

Click here to learn more about “Up in Flames: U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide”

SkyTruth’s flaring map puts these enormous numbers in perspective, and can enable regulators and citizen watchdogs to see if companies really are taking action to reduce the occurrence of flaring. Click below for more information and to see a full-screen version of the map.

SkyTruth Uses Satellites to Track – a Bicycle?!

[Update – July 28, 2014: Tony successfully completed the challenge and we have switched the map from a live view of his most recent location to a static overview of the whole journey.]

Shepherdstown, WV –  On Friday, July 25th, SkyTruth will turn our attention from aimless oil tankers and drilling sites in America’s Heartland to an unlikely suspect – a bicycle. Technically we’re more interested in the man riding the bicycle – Tony Long, Director of the Ending Illegal Fishing campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Long, a former commander in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy (UK), is taking part in the Action London-to-Paris ride, a 24 hour, ~240 mile challenge to raise money for children’s medical research. Along the way Tony will be carrying a SPOT personal tracker provided by SkyTruth in order to demonstrate how remarkably simple and inexpensive it is to deploy a satellite monitoring system, whether it’s for a bicycle winding through the hills of Northern France or a 608-ton fishing vessel plying the waters of the South Pacific for tuna.

SkyTruth CTO Paul Woods is the brains behind putting Tony’s path on the map. “It’s a nice example of how easy it is for anyone willing to be transparent about their actions with a trivial investment of time and money.”

Some fishing vessels already employ AIS transmitters as a way of broadcasting their location to avoid deadly collisions at sea, but the use of AIS is not mandatory everywhere.

“Imagine if every commercial fishing vessel were as trackable as Tony’s bicycle. Overnight we could make it infinitely harder to hide illegal fishing,” Woods said.

Long agrees. “Tracking fishing vessels is a vital element of ending illegal activity – the only thing that is missing is the will to make it mandatory globally.”

“I am pleased to have SkyTruth’s emblem on my shirt,” Long said in an email several days before the challenge. “Having seen the great work SkyTruth are doing advancing tracking of fishing vessels from space I jokingly said ‘Track my ride to Paris?’ – I wasn’t expecting a reply of, ‘of course!'”

You can see Tony’s track on the map below. And you can sponsor Tony’s cause by clicking here.


Calling All FrackFinders — Help Us Map Fracking in Ohio!

You did it! Your collaborative image analysis effort with FrackFinder PA helped us build a map showing all of the active Marcellus Shale gas-drilling sites across the entire state of Pennsylvania in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013.  More important, you identified all of the open-air fluid impoundments related to those drilling sites and the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  We’re about to deliver that dataset to researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health (part of John Hopkins University) so they can investigate the respiratory and neonatal health implications of living near modern drilling sites. Soon, we will post that dataset online so anyone can download it for their own analysis or research.

But we can’t stop there. Drilling is booming across the US, thanks to the combination of horizontal drilling and fracking targeting what were formerly un-tappable reserves of oil and gas.  In neighboring Ohio, drilling mostly targets the Utica Shale, but there are some Marcellus Shale wells too.  We need your help with FrackFinder Ohio to identify active well pads on high-resolution aerial imagery from 2010, 2011 and 2013.  

And we are working on figuring out how to incorporate some smokin’ hot, super hi-res imagery shot by our friends at LightHawk in June. (That’s right, this June.)  Students from Walsh University will help us ground-truth some of the drilling sites you identify.  And, as always, the data will be made available to anyone who has a legitimate research, education, or public outreach need.

So help us build the gas-drilling map of Ohio.  It’s easy; it’s fun to look at imagery; and you’ll be contributing to a unique dataset that can help scientists answer fundamental questions about the impacts of modern oil and gas drilling.


Timelapse: World Cup Edition!

Google Earth views of Brazil’s Arena da Amazonia in Manaus.  From left to right:  2001, 2011, 2014.
An old, 21,000 seat stadium was torn down to build the new, 42,000 seat arena.

Maybe you’re an avid World Cup follower, sporting your favorite team’s colors under your work clothes.  Maybe you’re not.  Either way, you’ve probably seen something about the”greening” and “sustainability” of World Cup Brazil.  FIFA has been devoting A LOT of PR to these ideas, but even Forbes is calling some of it ‘greenwashing’.

One of the more controversial stadiums is Arena Amazonia in Manaus. Located on the Amazon River, Manaus has a population of two million people surrounded by approximately two million square miles of rainforest.  A 19th century rubber boom caused population growth in this region. Timelapse shows more recent growth in Manaus (including what looks like a new bridge or causeway) thanks to a free trade zone offering tax incentives for manufacturing.

While it is great that the stadium sports some cool green tech, as a skytruther and a soccer (ahem, football) fan, I’ve got to wonder if it was worth the impacts and construction nightmares of building it IN the Amazon.  With growing World Cup fever and recent coverage of just these issues by the Washington Post, we thought we’d “kick” things off a little early this week with “Wayback Wednesday” instead of Throwback Thursday (#TBT).

Playing soccer in the middle of the rainforest is tough (80+ degrees with 80+% humidity), but building in this region proved even tougher.  Most of the materials had to be shipped up the Amazon, and a sizeable part of the stadium was shipped all the way from Portugal.  Workers fought with high humidity that allegedly caused steel to buckle (?!) and three people died during the construction efforts.

All this for a 42,000 seat stadium that will be the home to only four World Cup games.  That’s right…nearly $300 million dollars for four games.  After that, the stadium’s will be the home of Nacional, a 4th tier Brazilian league team with an average attendance of 1,000 fans (Manaus isn’t exactly known for fanatical football culture). So like other big sporting complexes we’ve skytruthed recently, (think the Winter Olympics in Sochi) we have to wonder what the future holds for these big construction projects.

And, if you’re curious to see the stadium be sure to watch the Group of Death match between the US and Portugal on June 22nd.

Want to do some World Cup skytruthing of your own?  Check out Natal and Cuiaba!

Timelapse: The Shrinking Mississippi Delta

NASA satellite view of sediment around Bird’s Foot Delta.

This week for throwback Thursday (#TBT) we’re heading south to check out the Mississippi Delta region.  We’re looking at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River, sometimes known as the Bird’s Foot Delta.  This is where the river branches off in three directions and enters the Gulf of Mexico.  While it is the nature of a river delta to shift and change over time, humans make things complicated when we set up permanent residence in shifting landscapes and tamper with natural cycles. The wetlands that surround the delta act as a natural barrier, a shock-absorber if you will, to the storm surge or hurricanes and other tropical cyclones. But between levees starving these marshes of sediment, and the impact of thousands of miles of canals servicing oil and gas wells across the coast, the Delta is shrinking.

The canals allow saltwater to intrude on the marshes which should be brackish, killing vegetation and accelerating erosion. Because this increases the flood risk to the region, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East  filed a lawsuit last year against 97 oil and gas companies. Our partners in the Gulf Monitoring Consortium have been working to document these impacts, but this week Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill blocking the board from pursuing their case and other so-called “frivolous lawsuits.”

SkyTruth is not the first to see these changes in Google’s Timelapse, you can see other investigations and learn more about coastal erosion here and here.

Click the link below to explore the world and do some skytruthing of your own…


As always, feel free to share your findings with us on Facebook or Twitter.