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Erica Jackson, Community Outreach and Communications Specialist

Staff Spotlight: Erica Jackson

As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about the newest member of the FracTracker team, Erica Jackson, and what she’ll be working on in the Pittsburgh tri-state region with us.

Time with FracTracker: Today is Erica’s fourth day

Education: University of Pittsburgh

Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Title: Community Outreach and Communications Specialist


Spotlight Interview

What will you actually do in that role?

Erica Jackson bio pic

Erica Jackson, Community Outreach and Communications Specialist. View bio

I’ll be working to share FracTracker’s resources with the public. This includes developing online content, providing tools and trainings for communities affected by fossil fuels, and partnering with other environmental organizations and researchers in the area. Much of my work will be on the community-scale, focusing on oil and gas development in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.

I’m also here to assist with grant reporting, data analysis, mapping, and the many other activities that keep FracTracker running.  Since today is my first day, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of these projects pretty soon!

Previous Position and Organization

Predoctoral Fellow in the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (Pittsburgh, PA)

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

I’ve always been interested in fossil fuel issues due to their connection with climate change, however it was not until I began researching their public health impacts that I was inspired to pursue opportunities to work in this field. Living in Pennsylvania where fracking occurs in backyards, it’s hard to ignore the risks oil and gas pose to the public, or the amount of activism and interest this topic generates. Working at CHEC was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with this issue and the data out there, as well as gain a better understanding of environmental health concerns. I’m always looking for ways to protect natural resources while also promoting healthy and sustainable communities, and working on oil and gas issues is a perfect way to do that.

What is one of the most impactful projects you are excited to be involved in with FracTracker?

I’m excited to partner with and support communities in the Ohio River Valley impacted by oil and gas. This region is at a critical point in its history, where the decisions being made now will shape the wellbeing and sustainability of the area over the next century. It’s challenging and contentious, but at a point where open data and clear communication of risks involved is vital – I’m looking forward to enhancing these efforts as a part of FracTracker.

Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker

Staff Spotlight: Brook Lenker

As the last article in our staff spotlight series, learn more about Executive Director, Brook Lenker, and how his early environmental work in Pennsylvania brought him to FracTracker Alliance.

Time with FracTracker: 5 years

Education: I graduated from Towson University near Baltimore in 1989 with a degree in geography and environmental planning. I loved the course of study so much that I enrolled in the graduate school and worked on my master’s degree in the same field.

Office Location: Camp Hill, PA

Title: Executive Director

What do you actually do in that role?

From my office in Camp Hill, I lead a wonderful, talented team of eight staff working from five locations around the country. My role is to make sure FracTracker has the strategic direction, staff capacity, financial resources, and board leadership to be effective, impactful.

Previous Positions and Organizations

YBWA cleanup 2013 Brook on creek

Brook during a creek cleanup

While I was evening commuting to Maryland, I served as program director for a county recreation department in Central Pennsylvania. Later, I landed a position with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, eventually becoming the Director of Watershed Stewardship. The activities we coordinated – river sojourns, stream and habitat restoration, stormwater education, and more – took me around the multi-state watershed even though I was based in Harrisburg.

My next stop was the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources where for over seven years I served as the Manager of Education and Outreach. My responsibilities included community relations and promoting ecological awareness and stewardship. A program called iConservePA was a focal point. My colleagues and I used creative communications strategies to encourage Pennsylvanians to “Take Conservation Personally.” This and other agency initiatives suffered when fracking began to boom.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

As I became demoralized by the degradation I witnessed and read about, I was given the chance to direct FracTracker. I took the reins in late 2011 as the website transitioned out of the University of Pittsburgh. By the summer of 2012, we formed the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance, and I became its executive director. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been at the helm of FracTracker for nearly five years. Knowing that we’re a helpful force in the fight against the harms of extraction is rewarding. The projects and the people with whom I interact are inspiring. While the challenges facing our planet are daunting and, at times, depressing, I’m lucky to be able to exercise my convictions in the workplace.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

Brook Lenker in Argentina

Brook Lenker in Argentina

It’s been an unforgettable journey so far. I’ve learned so much and met so many great people – from different states and different countries. Perhaps my greatest experience to date was a tour to Argentina in May 2015. Alongside reps from Ecologic Institute and Earthworks, we presented to hundreds of people at different venues including the senate of Argentina. As I spoke of the insights of FracTracker and other researchers, an interpreter put my words into Spanish. I felt overwhelmingly humble and grateful.

Environmental injustice knows no bounds, but good people everywhere make a profound difference.

Karen Edelstein and her partner in Hawaii

Staff Spotlight: Karen Edelstein

As part of our staff spotlight series, learn more about Karen Edelstein and how her work through FracTracker has changed the course of drilling in New York State.

Time with FracTracker: I started with FracTracker in 2010 as a contract employee and then in 2012 started working 25 hours a week as a regular part-time staffer.

Education: M.P.S. in Environmental Management, and B.S. in Natural Resources, both from Cornell University

Office Location: Ithaca, NY

Title: Eastern Program Coordinator

What do you actually do in that role?

My job has changed a lot since I started working for FracTracker. I came to FracTracker when many New Yorkers were frantically learning as much as they could about unconventional drilling for natural gas, which at the time, appeared likely to start happening in the near future. Over a period of years, using credible public data, I have created dozens of maps on topics about geology, water withdrawals, waste transportation, hydrocarbon storage, and documenting the surging movements of public opposition to high-volume hydraulic fracturing for gas. The maps were informative to a wide range of decision-makers, environmental advocates, educators, and citizens.

Now, I’m working more broadly on projects up and down the East Coast. These projects include documenting controversies surrounding pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure, and the public opposition to this development. I also support FracTracker’s mission to educate and report on the alternatives to fossil fuel infrastructure, and have been looking at renewable energy issues, as well.

Previous Positions and Organizations

Over the past 16 years, I’ve used geographic information systems in positions at numerous environmental and educational organizations, working for land trusts and other nonprofit agencies, secondary school teacher development programs, and county government agencies. Prior to that, I worked as a naturalist and environmental educator for ten years.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

Karen Edelstein, August 2016

Karen Edelstein, FracTracker’s Eastern Program Coordinator

I live in a rural area of New York State that was in the cross-hairs of the oil and gas industry about 9 years ago. Landsmen were at the door asking me to lease my land, “thumper trucks” were pounding the roads trying to get seismic readings, and helicopters were overhead dropping bundles of equipment to conduct testing. Few people, including me, understood the enormity of what was going on. I joined a few community groups that wanted to know more.

Shortly after a multi-year work contract I had at a local college ended, in 2010, I met the (then small) staff of FracTracker at a public training event in Central New York. The organization had just been formed, and the presentation was all about mapping in Pennsylvania. I went right up to the director and told him how much we needed similar work in New York State, and I could be the person to do it! I started working part-time for FracTracker within the month.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

Our map of New York State bans and moratoria on high volume hydraulic fracturing received a great deal of attention in the years leading up to the eventual statewide ban on the process. Over time, close to 200 municipalities enacted legislation. It was rewarding to document this visually through a progression of dozens of maps during that period. These maps of how municipality after municipality invoked New York State home rule provided important touchstones for community activists, too. In late 2014, in their announcement about the decision to ban HVHF in NYS, New York’s Health and Environment commissioners cited FracTracker’s map as an indication of patterns of strong ambivalence towards the process among state residents:

Together DEC’s proposed restrictions and local bans and moratoria total approximately 7.5 million acres, or about 63% of the resource. Here’s a summary of the local government restrictions and prohibitions. And the picture even gets cloudier. The practical impact of the Dryden decision I mentioned earlier is that even more acreage may be off-limits to HVHF drilling. Within the 4.5 million acres NOT excluded by the state or local restrictions, approximately 253 towns have zoning and 145 have no zoning. Each town with zoning would have to determine whether its current law restricts or even allows HVHF. So those towns without zoning would still have to decide whether to allow HVHF virtually anywhere or to prescribe where drilling could occur. The uncertainty about whether HVHF is an authorized use would undoubtedly result in additional litigation. It would also result in a patchwork of local land use rules which industry has claimed would utterly frustrate the rational development of the shale resource. Clearly the court’s decision shifted the battleground to town boards, to as evidenced by the conflicting claims of the opposing stakeholder groups. According to the Joint Landowners Coalition, many towns in the Southern Tier have passed resolutions favoring HVHF, while the online map from FracTracker.org indicates that many of the same towns are moving toward a ban. Indeed, our own informal outreach to towns in the Southern Tier confirms that even towns that support HVHF decisions are still up in the air. I’d say that the prospects for HVHF development in NY are uncertain, at best.

Matthew Kelso and colleagues during discussions before a Senate meeting in Argentina

Staff Spotlight: Matthew Kelso

As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Matthew Kelso and why he works with FracTracker Alliance to analyze data from the oil and gas industry.

Time with FracTracker: I’ve been working with FracTracker since June 2010, when it was still a part of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Nickname: Matt

Education: Humboldt State University

Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Title: Manager of Data and Technology

What do you actually do in that role?

I make oil and gas data more accessible and more digestible to the general public. Largely, this is accomplished by converting spreadsheets into maps and charts to see what stories are hidden in the data. I’ve found that many people have an easier time processing impacts visually, so seeing a map with wells and violations in areas that they are familiar with will have a different effect on them than reading the same data in a huge spreadsheet that was downloaded from some regulatory agency or another.

I also work with other nonprofits to help them with their data and mapping needs.

Previous Position and Organization

As mentioned above, I worked for the University of Pittsburgh from 2010 to 2012, when FracTracker was a program at CHEC. Before that, I’ve worked as an archaeologist in the Southwest, a casino auditor, and an AmeriCorps member.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

Environmental consciousness is something that has evolved over time for me. My family moved to Pittsburgh when I was a kid at a time when the city was busy sandblasting the soot off of iconic buildings and other landmarks all over town that had been left by over a century of steelmaking and other heavy industry. Then, I went to college in California at a time when Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in an old-growth redwood for two years to protect it from being cut down. As an archaeologist, I spent my days looking for evidence of how people from a previous time had interacted with the environment around them. But my interest in oil and gas issues in particular really began by watching the footage of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on TV, then coming to the realization that similar – if smaller – spills and contamination events were happening all over the place.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

To my way of thinking, the true impact of the FracTracker Alliance is varied and cumulative, much in the way that oil and gas development itself impacts people’s lives. It is useful for people to hear that a pipeline leak in Santa Barbara, an oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, deforestation due to sand mine development in Wisconsin, well explosions in North Dakota, ground water contamination in Pennsylvania, and pipeline operators taking land away from people using eminent domain in Texas are all phenomena related to oil and gas extraction. Even though they may be dealing with a variety of issues at the local level, the impacts of development are widespread, and one of FracTracker’s biggest impacts is reminding people of the interconnected nature of the industry.

If I were to choose just one project that I was involved in, however, I would have to say the analysis of people living within a half-mile of train tracks in Pennsylvania that we did with PennEnvironment. The project really brought into focus the damage that oil trains could incur if they happen to explode in densely populated regions throughout the state.

Brook Lenker, Matthew Kelso, and intern Gianna Calisto counting oil trains as they passed through Pittsburgh, PA

Brook Lenker, Matt Kelso, and intern Gianna Calisto counting oil trains as they passed through Pittsburgh, PA

Feature image: Matt Kelso and colleagues prior to Senate meeting in Argentina

Staff Spotlight: Kyle Ferrar

As part of our staff spotlight series, learn more about Kyle Ferrar and why he works with FracTracker Alliance to conduct and communicate research on the public health impacts associated with the oil and gas / fossil fuel industry.  

Time with FracTracker: I’ve been working with FracTracker since its inception in 2010, and started as an official staff member in July, 2014.

Nickname: Ky

Education: BS from the University of Pittsburgh; and MPH from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, where I am currently a DrPH candidate.

Office Location: I have an office in downtown Oakland, CA.

Title: Western Program Coordinator

What do you actually do in that role?

My major role as the Western Program Coordinator consists of a variety of responsibilities of operating a FracTracker Alliance branch office. In addition to the contributions of analyses and research that is documented on FracTracker’s California (and other western states’) page, my activities include fundraising, community outreach, and acting as an expert adviser on public health impacts for policy makers, regulators, other research institutions, at conferences, and directly to the public.

Kyle Ferrar spotlight image

Kyle Ferrar (right) taking water samples

Previous Position and Organization

My previous research as a staff member with the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh focused on public health impacts from various sectors of the fossil fuel industry, including Marcellus Shale development. In the picture to the right, you can see a CHEC colleague and I collecting water samples from the Allegheny River, next to a coal fired power plant.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

As a steward to my local environment in Southwestern Pennsylvania, I was alerted of the concerns many residents were feeling as a result of the rapid increase of industrial presence in rural Pennsylvania resulting from Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction. The connections our CHEC had made in the past using community based participatory research methods to address and study other sources of environmental degradation were a vital resource for understanding what was really happening – on the ground.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

The majority of my time is spent working on my computer, and cleaning and massaging datasets in spreadsheets. This is necessary and important, but incredibly tedious and far-removed. One project in 2015 that started this way, as most do, became much more personal. Working with a group called Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment, we identified the fact that Hispanic students and other students of color are more likely to attend schools near active oil and gas wells than white students. This was also true for hydraulically fractured (stimulated) oil and gas wells. Now, no student should have to go to school near this type of activity, but California does not have minimum setback requirements for schools or any other sensitive sites.

Meeting and working with the families of the students – and the students themselves that attend schools in the midst of the oil and gas wastelands – drives me to continue working for a future free from the fossil-fuel industry. No child should have to go to school near oil and gas fields to get an education. And as is typically the case, non-white and Hispanic communities in California bear the heaviest burden.

Check back soon to read the analysis described above. It will be the focus of my next blog piece.

Feature Image: Kyle Ferrar (left) with colleagues from CRPE

Staff Spotlight: Ted Auch

As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Ted Auch, PhD and why he started researching the impacts of oil and gas development.

Ted Auch during a trip to NW Michigan's Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand's mine

Ted Auch during a trip to NW Michigan’s Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand’s mine

Time with FracTracker: 3 ½ years

College: University of Vermont BS and PhD, Virginia Tech

Office Location: Cleveland Heights, OH

Title: Great Lakes Program Coordinator

What do you actually do in that role?

My interests include topics such as environmental justice, ecosystem services, watershed resilience, and landscape alteration(s). My work here at FracTracker focuses on the Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) nexus as it relates to hydraulic fracturing and related oil & gas activities/infrastructure with a focus on waste, watershed resilience and freshwater demand, and land-use change.

Previous Position and Organization

2011-2012 Vacant Land Repurposing (VLR) Postdoc, Cleveland Botanical Garden

2012- Present Adjunct Faculty, Cleveland State University, Teaching Intro Environmental Science and Geology, Soil Ecology

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues/fracking?

I had experienced the environmental and socioeconomic costs of fossil fuel extraction while I was a graduate student at Virginia Tech researching strip-mine/mountain top removal reclamation best practices as part of the Jim Burger’s Powell River Project. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Ohio in 2011 that I began to become aware of similar issues associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). I began to notice that there are many parallels between the techniques and how they alter communities, the landscape, and watersheds. Thus, when I found out about the chance to join the FracTracker team here in Ohio I saw that it was an opportunity I could not pass up.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

The projects I am most proud in my capacity here at FracTracker would be our research into the effects of HVHF freshwater demand on the resilience/security of the Muskingum River Watershed in eastern Ohio and our work shedding light on the effects of frac sand mining across several Midwestern states. The latter topic is poorly understood on many levels, and we hope that our work has/will highlight the gaps in understanding and potential research opportunities.

Read Ted Auch’s Articles

Ted Auch and team during a trip to NW Michigan's Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand's mine

Ted Auch and team during a trip to NW Michigan’s Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand’s mine