Notable upcoming events and other announcements

Adding Data Categories to Blog and DataTool

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Among our initial discussions with stakeholders and users of the DataTool, it was often suggested that CHEC introduce new data categories instead of the standard ones that define data on the DataTool, and then list those groups on the blog for people less familiar with the navigation of FracTracker’s DataTool.

Matt Kelso, our new data manager, has quickly assessed the data currently found on the DataTool and made some recommendations as to how all of the datasets can be defined and posted on the blog. The metadata (descriptions of the data’s origins, keywords, timeliness, etc) associated with each dataset is also an important feature within the DataTool that also needed some attention. In addition to taking an inventory of the datasets that have been posted to data.fractracker.org (the DataTool), Kelso attempted to bring some clarity to the various categories, and made some notes as to the quality of the metadata that was provided. The 79 datasets that currently exist on the DataTool can fit into one of the following categories (frequencies of each are parenthetical):

Comparative data
Demographics (4)
Geologic formations – gas fields (3)
Geologic formations – other (2)
Physical geography (2)
Political boundaries (6)
Wildlife habitat (4)
Environmental Data
Air quality (6)
Land quality (1)
Water quality (3)
Industry Activity
Drilling permits (28)
Gas well sites (6)
Incident reports and regulations (7)
Community Impact
Community health data (2)
Interview data (3)Other
Other (2)

In fact, the two datasets best described by “Other” are tests that have been scheduled for deletion. This is not to say that there might not eventually be more legitimate categories—perhaps an agricultural or economic dataset will eventually be uploaded to the site, but until they are, it is probably best to keep the number of categories to a minimum. Currently users do not need to choose one of the above categories to define their datasets, but we are considering adding that as a requirement, with perhaps an option for a secondary category. We would appreciate your feedback on that issue and the proposed categories.

Some users have experienced difficulty using the geographic search tool located on the Explore page. Kelso suggests that rather than drawing a rectangle on the screen to define a geographic location (as it stands now), it might be better to allow users to narrow their searches by a specific state or region. In reality, it is only as reliable as the data that’s been provided. For example, there are five datasets that relate to Marcellus drilling permits in Ohio, but if you look up the word “Ohio” there will not be any results, since the information was entered as “oh”. For this reason, Kelso suggests that the data uploader be required to select a geographic location from a drop-down box, as well.

We welcome your suggestions!

FracTracker Blog and Data Tool for Use in Shale Gas and Oil Plays throughout the Country

Piloting FracTracker in the Marcellus Shale Region

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By Conrad (Dan) Volz, DrPH, MPH – Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); Director, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities; Director, Environmental Health Risk Assessment Certificate Program, GSPH

This document explains the fractracker.org web-platform for tracking shale gas environmental and environmental health, social and behavioral health, emergency preparedness, community, general, and public health, and associated land use impacts. Over time, we envision it to be able to track economic, demographic, and other important variables that any organization or individual is interested in exploring. This is being written in part because we at CHEC have been actually overwhelmed in the past few weeks by requests from other shale gas plays to use the platform.

So to start, FracTracker is funded by the Heinz Endowments, managed by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) [a center within the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health], and hosted by the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. The platform architecture was built by Rhiza Laboratories [a division of Maya designs].

If you notice at the top of this blog that it says it is dedicated to tracking Marcellus Shale gas extraction impacts—please do not be put-off if you are interested in other shale gas plays or even in other oil and gas extraction and hybrid activities. This site can help you — and also you can help it!

FracTracker’s Data Tool is being piloted in the Marcellus Shale, but any citizen, organization, activist, even government organizations and industries themselves can use this tool to help visualize oil and gas extraction impacts in any region of the country or even throughout the world. It is mainly being developed though to help in tracking impacts of unconventional gas and oil and other byproduct extraction by stimulation technology commonly referred to as hydrofracturing within the United States. Although a better term might be ‘high pressure chemical fluid fracturing’; industry words don’t characterize well many of the processes, as we often hear about flowback and produced water, which are best labeled contaminated fluids. Flowback water bears as much resemblance to water as waste effluent from steel or chemical plants do.

So our focus right now is to pilot this web-platform in the Marcellus Shale and general Appalachian Devonian shale formations that are primarily in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia but also cover portions of Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and even across Lake Erie. The site was launched in the last week of June 2010 at a meeting in Bedford, PA that included data providers and users from community groups, environmental organizations, regulatory agencies, academia, and foundations-primarily from the state of Pennsylvania. Following this ‘kickoff’ meeting, others have been held in Pittsburgh, PA (SW PA – epicenter of gas extraction), Danville, PA (NE PA – an epicenter of gas extraction activity), and Ithaca NY. The purpose of these meetings has been to inform groups and institutions about this tool and get buy-in for data gathering and sharing and most importantly forming a network of groups interested in visualizing impacts of gas extraction operations and predicting environmental and social impacts, and health effects under multiple scenarios of the development of the industry. Certainly we know from past shale gas and oil plays that this is unlike industrial process such as coal burning for power production in that the oil and gas industry develops over a wide geographical area with many sources for both air and water pollution. Many gas extraction processes are small enough to not need permitting under existing regulations, but taken as a whole will contribute widely to air pollution effects such as ozone formation and surface water quality deficits from disposal of contaminated fluids into sewage treatment plants.

Our funding for this project is thus limited right now to Marcellus Shale, but it has always been envisioned that the platform would be used across the country. The design of this tool is therefore an ongoing project. Although CHEC does not have funds to actively manage data from other shale plays currently, we certainly encourage groups-individuals-regulatory agencies-environmental organizations to use the tool in areas of the country that you are interested in and to populate the data tool with databases that would be useful in showing locations of wells, population density, income, natural resources, landforms, endangered species, air and water quality, health outcomes, watersheds and rivers etc. All data must be geolocated (with a latitude and longitude), as that is what allows visualization of the dataset on the Google earth maps.

The tool is really pretty easy to use once data is stored on it (getting data on it is not so simple at the present time, as there are only a few types of file formats it accepts, and knowledge of how to transform some databases is necessary; we are working on that also). It is quite easy to overlay databases on each other to visualize and tell stories about extraction activities and for academics it is an interesting hypothesis generating device. Two stories highlighted on the blog that were easily produced were:

  1. Overlay of sewage treatment plants (STP) accepting contaminated fluids in PA with watersheds and rivers; and
  2. Marcellus Shale gas extraction permits in PA with existing ozone monitors operated by regulatory authorities
The overlay of STP accepting contaminated fluids from drillers and watershed and rivers was important to be able to see the proliferation of disposal into the Monongahela River and calculate the total poundage of dissolved solids, strontium, barium and chlorides going into that watershed; as a result we are launching a study of the major cations and anions and organic compounds that are being put directly into this critical drinking water source. Overlaying Marcellus Shale drilling permits and drilled wells onto a map showing the location of ozone monitors helped us visualize the many areas in PA where there are no ozone monitors but will or are undergoing extraction activity-given the present monitoring scheme—ground level ozone formation due to organic vapor release from fracing ponds-evaporation centers-condensers-cryo plants and compressors cannot be determined; so as a result we are launching an ultraviolet spectroscopy study (UV-DOAS) of volatile organic compounds being released in a heavily developed area south of Pittsburgh.
I also encourage environmental organizations, community groups, and regulatory authorities to contact CHEC if you would like to use FracTracker or if you would like to discuss ways in which we can all work together. We can certainly help users of the web-platform work through technical issues associated with its use – but again and most importantly, since we are public health scientists, getting data on health effects even perceived health effects, is a way to document effects from this industry for use in more detailed epidemiological studies. Having reports from other shale gas plays is important to do good population-based science. We feel that the networking aspect of this across the country is maybe its most important outcome. We are interested in talking with organizations that want to pursue funding to work on this in other areas. To these end please contact Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH -CHEC Communications Specialist (contact information below) to discuss using FracTracker’s blog and data tool. If you would like to talk about networking opportunities ask for me when you call 412-624-9379.

Gesundheit – Dan Volz

FracTracker General Contact Information:
Samantha L. Malone, MPH, CPH
Communications Specialist, CHEC
Phone: (412) 624-9379
Email: malone@fractracker.org

New on the Blog: Data Collection Form

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Due to all of the reports we receive daily about citizens’ experiences with shale gas extraction, CHEC has created an online form that people can use to submit these reports or questions. The information you provide can be anything from a road degradation issue in your municipality, an increase in DUI rates, a spill or leak on your property including photos, or even questions about the gas extraction process in your region. It would be very helpful to us if you could provide an exact location of an issue. We will do our best to respond to your questions.

The information you provide here will eventually be loaded onto the data tool. CHEC will use your data for research purposes only.

Unfortunately, if you describe an incident in the form below, it does not automatically get forwarded to the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) or to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); you can report incidents by completing the PA DEP’s online reporting form or by contacting EPA Eyes On Drilling: 1-877-919-4372, eyesondrilling@epa.gov.

 

Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project

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The Mountain Watershed Association (MWA) is developing a pilot ‘Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project’ in collaboration with the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and other environmentally-focused organizations to increase public awareness of issues associated with developing the Marcellus shale in western Pennsylvania. As part of this project, MWA will host four informational meetings and two citizen training sessions located in the Yough basin.

The informational meetings for citizens will include information on the drilling and permitting process, leasing pitfalls, compliance and the DEP’s role in oversight, and water, air and health impacts.

Informational sessions will be held on the following dates in the following PA communities:

September 28, 2010: Connellsville
October 5, 2010: Greensburg/Latrobe
November 4, 2010: Farmington
November 9, 2010: Somerset

Time and location TBA.

MWA will also be hosting citizen surveillance trainings designed to assist the public in conducting visual assessments and basic water monitoring associated with well development throughout the area. For more information on this initiative, contact Veronica.

Quick Update – Postponing WV FracTracker Mtg

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The FracTracker meeting that we planned to host on August 13th in West Virginia has been postponed. We will let you know when this meeting is rescheduled. In the meantime, please give us your feedback: malone@fractracker.org.

Public Meetings on Marcellus Shale

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Fellow Pittsburghers – If you are one of the many people interested in the issue of hydraulic fracturing & how it could affect the environment & public health, be sure to attend the following meeting:

  • Thu, July 22, 6pm – 10pm
    Hilton Garden Inn, 1000 Corporate Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317
The EPA is looking for your input into developing its proposed plan to study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing & drinking water. You are being asked to pre-register for the meeting at least 72 hours ahead of time either by visiting: [link removed] or by calling the toll-free number 1-866-477-3635.

UPDATE: CHEC’s own Dr. Charles Christen attended the July 22nd meeting held by the EPA. See what the Pittsburgh Business Times had to say about the gathering that drew a crowd of over 1,200 people!

Thanks to a post from our readers, we were made aware of a meeting that the PA DEP is hosting to gather community input in this area about proposed regulatory changes. Be sure to check out the post from that reader below for the additional meetings being held across the commonwealth:

  • Mon, July 26, 7pm – 9pm
    Waterfront Conference Room A & B, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4745

Comments may be submitted electronically to the Board at RegComments@state.pa.us & must also be received by the Board on or before August 9, 2010. A subject heading of the proposed rulemaking & a return name & address must be included in each transmission.

 

Geo Animation: Marcellus Shale Permits in PA Over Time

By Josh Knauer, Rhiza Labs CEO (Reposted)

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Here at Rhiza Labs, we’re really excited to have a whole bunch of new public projects launching with our clients. These clients are pioneers who are exploring new ways to encourage communities of interest to aggregate data & share it publicly, while also providing these communities with incredibly powerful data analysis & visualization tools. One of the latest projects to launch, FracTracker.org, involves many dozens of community organizations that want to tract the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas wells in their communities.

I wanted to see how widespread this type of gas well drilling practice was, so I took the Marcellus Shale gas well permit data from the PA Dept of Environmental Protection and created a quick snapshot of the data, & then just clicked on the Action button in the upper right corner of the snapshot page & chose the options “Download as –> KML” to bring it into Google Earth. I then just hit “play” on the time slider within Google Earth.

The geo animation I created is captured below:

[media removed]

Concerned Groups Meet to Discuss Impacts, Options, and FracTracker

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On Tuesday, June 29, 2010, CHEC & the Foundation for PA Watersheds will be hosting one of the most diverse meetings ever assembled to address Marcellus Shale gas extraction concerns. The meeting is also to officially launch this blog! (We’re calling both components “FracTracker” for simplicity purposes.)
Serious economic, environmental & public health concerns surround the gas extraction process. These concerns include road infrastructure degradation, explosions & blowouts, agriculture & hunting & fishing impacts, water contamination from the disposal of waste fluids into surface waters, & human exposure to volatile organic compounds that off-gas from production facilities.
FracTracker will enable people to better assess documented & predicted impacts & correlate them with the geographic location of wells drilled & accompanying production facilities. For the first time ever, researchers across many disciplines will be able to collaborate directly with communities & citizens in the collection & analysis of data that track these impacts across the Marcellus Shale play. FracTracker also has the potential to significantly influence future research & policy formulation.
Additional FracTracker Meetings

Four additional meetings of a similar nature will be held in NY, Western PA, Eastern PA, & WV during July & August of 2010. See schedule below for more information. All meetings will occur from 10am – 4pm.

  • July 22, 2010 — Pittsburgh, PA
  • July 29, 2010 — Danville, PA
  • August 10, 2010 — Ithaca, NY
  • August 13, 2010 — Charleston, WV
If your organization would like to participate in one of those meetings, please email or call us at (412) 802-0273 to request an invite – pending available space.