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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!

SkyTruth Alerts – Try It!

Ever wonder what’s going on in the environment around your home, your school, your favorite vacation spot? Us too: the world is a big place, and it takes a LOT of satellite images to cover it all. Here at SkyTruth we scour the infosphere for hints telling us where to look, and when. Over the years we’ve accumulated a collection of information sources that we use to decide which satellite images to analyze, and then we use this blog to report our findings and publish our images. We’ve been working on a system to easily share those sources with our partners, and now we’re ready to share it with everyone.

SkyTruth Alerts

Today we are launching a new service on our website called SkyTruth Alerts where we publish environmental incident reports, as we get (and produce) them. We are starting off the service with reports collected from three sources – focused heavily on oil and gas drilling and related activities in the US. The sources are reported oil and hazardous materials spills from the National Response Center, pollution response and investigation reports from NOAA’s Incident News, and incident analyses published on our own SkyTruth blog. We will add more information sources over coming weeks, and extend our focus to include gas drilling and fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

How it Works

The system works by displaying on a map or in Google Earth the most recent incident reports from all sources for whatever region you are interested in. You can browse through the list of incidents geographically on the map, or chronologically in a list. Each incident report identifies the source of the report, the location, and details about the incident. Incident reports are pulled automatically from the various sources several times per day and updated immediately on the website. A visitor to the site can type in the name of a city or a street address and go directly to that location to see the recent incidents that have been reported nearby.

Automatic Update Notifications

Of course, no one wants to have to keep returning to a website every day just to see if anything new has been posted, which is why we offer a subscription system that delivers updates within your personally selected geographic area via RSS feed, or straight to your email (you’ll get one “daily digest” message per day).

So give it a try to get informed about pollution incidents happening in the places you care most about. And please let us know what you like, what you don’t, what you wish you could do with the Alerts. We will continually work to improve this system, so your feedback is very important!

Spilltracker – Show Us What’s Happening On Your Beach

In partnership with Surfrider and Ocean Conservancy, SkyTruth has launched an interactive website, the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, that lets Gulf-area residents document what’s happening to their coast. Anyone can search the site, using an interactive map, to find reports that others have submitted. Reports can include text descriptions, photos, and links to video and news articles. Anyone can submit their own report by clicking on the map to indicate the location, and uploading their own photos and info:

We intend to use this to document pre-spill and post-spill conditions, and to give cleanup volunteers a way to show the world the great work they’re doing. The more people who participate, the better, so please send this link to your Gulf-area friends, members, and other organizations!

Video Showing History and Extent of Drilling in the Rockies

As seen yesterday morning in the “Big Tent” at the DNC in Denver:


For The Wilderness Society, SkyTruth produced a 3-1/2 minute narrated video showing the extent of drilling across the Rocky Mountain states, featuring a time-lapse animation of the drilling history of Wyoming. You can access the video at the Better Energy website, view it on YouTube, or for a higher-quality experience, watch it at EmPivot, the green-video site.

Many groups provided us with photos and other assistance; there’s a full page of credits on the Better Energy web page. Ecofusion provided much technical and creative horsepower (they also worked on our virtual tour video of drilling impacts in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley). We generated the Wyoming drilling animation and the full Rockies flyover sequences using Google Earth. So of course we’ve also created a Google Earth KMZ file for each state, with all of the well data (nearly 300,000 wells). If you’d like to check out the wells nearest you, get Google Earth and download the files for Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The Wyoming well data are animated so you can watch the drilling history of the entire state unfold right onscreen; be sure to click on and read the Viewing Tips to learn how to use the animation feature.

Enjoy the flick, Drilling Gone Wrong: The Rockies on the Brink. Then cruise around our interactive map showing some of the areas in the West where drilling is causing conflicts.

Upper Green River Valley Video Now On EmPivot

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our 10-minute, narrated video tour of natural-gas drilling in the upper Green River valley area of western Wyoming (the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem). It’s a mashup of Google Earth flyover sequences, photos taken from the air and ground, and GIS information that tells the story of the impacts of energy development on this region:
It’s been available for online viewing through YouTube. Now you can also view it online at EmPivot, a new site for environmental videos that provides higher-resolution viewing. Compare the YouTube version of our video with the EmPivot version.

And if you’d like to download the full-screen version for standalone play, help yourself to either the Windows Media Player or the QuickTime versions (warning – very large files, broadband only!). Our Upper Green River Valley image gallery is another resource packed with images and photos, featuring the spread of natural-gas infrastructure across a vast landscape as the booming Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields have grown over the past decade. You can learn more about this, and see some nifty time-series animations of SkyTruth imagery, at the Upper Green River Valley Coalition website.