FrackFinder Crowdsourced Platform

NASA Earth Observatory image modified by SkyTruth

FrackFinder Crowdsourced Platform

The FrackFinder crowdsourced platform has been retired.

On July 31, 2013, SkyTruth launched FrackFinder, a crowdsourced project using Pybossa to find, map, and track sites where drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was occuring in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. At the time, it was relatively easy to map where fracking was permitted, but we wanted to know when drilling was actually happening, and the number of acres of land being impacted.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had requested data for Pennsylvania and associated maps to support their study of public health issues related to air quality degradation from fracking. 

Although our FrackFinder crowdsourcing platform has been retired, we continue to revise and update the FrackFinder data (for example, see PA and WV). Our current focus is to use machine learning to do what it used to take hundreds of people to accomplish, but we are so grateful to the volunteers who helped us create data sets that are still being used today. This work ultimately led to Maryland’s ban on fracking.

FrackFinder on the Wayback Machine

FrackFinder Crowdsourced Projects

Our first project was code-named TADPOLE, and used aerial survey photography taken by the National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) in 2005, 2008 and 2010. We asked volunteers to determine if a given image showed a wellpad. This is an example of what volunteers saw:

Each image was shown to 10 different volunteers and their assessments compared, allowing us to have a very high degree of certainty about an image when most or all of the volunteers agreed about what the image showed.

When we launched project TADPOLE, we didn’t know if anyone would even be interested in helping out, but thanks in part to an article published about SkyTruth the Washington Post, the first batch of imagery was 100% completed in just 29 days by a team of 233 volunteers. 

We presented the results on this map:

Project Moor Frog followed in November of that same year and was completed in January 2014. This project asked volunteers to identify ponds near active wellpads large enough to be associated with drilling and fracking. These ponds can contain millions of gallons of wastewater  from the fracking process, but no map existed that showed where they were. Project Dart Frog asked volunteers to help us differentiate between manmade or natural ponds and ponds being used in the fracking process (open air fluid impoundments). Students from Shepherd University and the University of San Francisco held FrackFinder-A-Thon events to help us finish this phase of the research. 

More crowdsourced projects followed, including Project TADPOLE 2013 and FrackFinder Ohio. By 2017, FrackFinder volunteers had finished 3 states