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 ( or send it an email to 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 –

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 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


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. 

UPDATED: Skytruthing the Bakken – Field Report

UPDATED – September 13, 2013: Added video trailer for upcoming short video documenting the mission.

September 3, 2013 – Chicago, Illinois: In partnership with Space For All, and funded by generous support from donors all across the country, SkyTruth recently launched a mission to document natural gas flaring in North Dakota’s Bakken oil shale. We are pleased to announce that our attempt to send an instrument package over the oil fields on a high-altitude balloon was a success, and as we make our separate ways home, we are starting the long process of sifting through the 19.8 gigabytes of video, photos, and sensor data that we collected from the mission.  We recorded four hours of HD video from three GoPro video cameras before the devices froze up in the chill of the upper atmosphere, 606 still images from a small, point-and-shoot digital camera programmed to take a photo every ten seconds, and over 400,000 atmospheric readings. 
Here’s how the launch went:
Preparation – Aug. 31- late afternoon, Sept. 1: We spent a feverish 24 hours assembling hardware, wiring sensors, troubleshooting software, triple-checking all recording systems, and running flight-path models which seemed insistent that the balloon flirt dangerously close to a large lake just north of the main oilfield. Finally satisfied with a favorable flight path and all hardware loaded up, we rolled out to the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Management Area on the floodplain of the Missouri River – just south of the city of Williston.
Our convoy and launch site made quite a scene, with the unwieldy triangular aluminum frame of the payload transported upright from the motel parking lot (above), four large red tanks of compressed hydrogen strapped down tight, and a spread of laptops, radios, and cameras worthy of a TV show. Locals asked us about the rig at the gas station, traffic leaving the wildlife area slowed down passing our launch site, and a curious ranger closing the gates for the day inquired about the large latex sphere billowing from the bed of our beat-up rental pickup truck. But everyone we talked to was fascinated by the idea of a weather balloon and getting to see the operation in progress.
Just before launch, the balloon inflated, parachute fixed between the balloon and the payload (the balloon bursts when it reaches its maximum altitude), and the hydrogen tank to the right.
Launch – 8:57 pm CDT, Sept. 1: Astonishingly, we released the balloon a few minutes ahead of schedule, carrying our payload up into the twilight as flights of ducks splashed down in the wetlands around us and oil field traffic roared up and down US Route 84 a few hundred meters away. However, as it soared into the darkening sky, our primary radio tracking system immediately ceased transmitting its location, leaving us with only the projected flight path and our backup satellite-based SPOT transmitter to find the rig when it returned to earth. Our flight predictor estimated a 3.5 hour flight, and a drop point far outside of the active oil field, 131 miles away by road.
The Chase –  8:57 pm to 1:15 am: With the balloon away, there was nothing to do but leap in our vehicles and race to the predicted landing zone. As darkness fell, the lights of oil rigs began to stand out in stark contrast to the once quiet wheat fields and pastures. Hurrying south through Watford City, the narrow roads under construction were intimidating because of the endless stream of trucks hauling tankers of oil, loads of fracking chemicals, and oilfield equipment. To the left and right, oil rigs drilled away while natural gas flares burned brightly in the otherwise inky darkness.
Continuing run simulations from our smartphones, the winds appeared to calm down, moving our expected landing point south and west of the original prediction. The lead chase vehicle proceeded halfway between the original predicted landing point while another held back at the town of Killdeer, just north of the new predictions. During this time, the satellite transmitter predictably blacked-out, leaving us to wait a nail-biting 110 minutes for any trace of the rig. 
At 12:21 am CDT, September 2, the satellite transmitter sent a new update, 36 minutes from the lead chase car, but only about 13 miles south of the original projected landing place. Both teams raced toward the latest coordinates, checking on smartphones every 10 minutes for the latest coordinates. As it gently wafted back to earth, Dan Kumor of Space For All and David Manthos from SkyTruth searched back and forth along a desolate road in the middle of pitch black fields for any sign of the payload. Upon receiving two transmissions in the same place, it became clear the rig had landed, and was only about 100 meters from the road.

Recovery – 1:15 am, Sept. 2: Following raw GPS coordinates from a smartphone, Kumor and Manthos paced off the latitude and longitude of the transmitter’s location, wading through tall grass right up to the completely intact payload (right) in the middle of a field just south of Zap, North Dakota. Once back at the road and joined by the second recovery vehicle, we pried open the camera cases (in the low-pressure of high-altitude flight, the air even inside a waterproof case can leak OUT, making it difficult to open the now vacuum-sealed boxes). With nervous anticipation we plugged in the camera cards to see what we got. 

The cameras shutoff after about an hour into the flight, but it appears we captured much of the oil field we were hoping to image. Furthermore, we found that it is indeed possible to piece together a relatively inexpensive experiment like this to get the SkyTruth view on the big picture of environmental impacts like oil shale drilling. We also successfully completed groundtruthing of numerous sites in the Bakken, validating the infrared detections we monitor from NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite. We have mountains of data to go through, and hours of footage to process, but stay tuned for more updates and news about our final products from this mission.
Author’s note: My train departs from Chicago Union Station in 20 minutes and I have to get to the gate. Loading photos has been nearly impossible on the wi-fi here, and video would be impossible. Check back for more photos and raw footage tomorrow!

P.S. Apologies for typos and rough grammar on the earlier version of this post. I did not expect to be able to post from the train, and felt we owed an update to  all our fantastic donors who made this possible.