Crowdsourcing the shale | – Anya Litvak

Oil and gas companies may have the money to pay research analysts for quality data, but public interests have the numbers on their side.Several crowdsourcing efforts have sprung up to generate, hone or analyze data about shale gas development in Pennsylvania, and they all rely on volunteers to contribute time and knowledge.As more people participate, the information, whether it’s about environmental impacts, traffic counts or lease terms, gets refined, and a broader picture emerges — one that is available to the public for free.SkyTruth’s FrackFinderSince 2002, SkyTruth, a West Virginia-based nonprofit, has been using the copious amounts of publicly available aerial and satellite images collected as frequently as twice a day from every point on earth to diagnose and chronicle environmental concerns. It has tracked landscapes that are changing because of strip mining coal, oil spills and natural gas flares in shale fields.In FrackFinder, a project launched last year, SkyTruth wrote an algorithm to parse through data from state regulatory agencies in Pennsylvania and Ohio and developed a tool that would enable volunteers to easily identify well pads and frack ponds, which are giant man-made lagoons where oil and gas companies keep either freshwater or wastewater from drilling and fracking. SkyTruth then engaged volunteers to go through aerial images of these sites.Another effort, Project Dart Frog required seven out of 10 people to agree that an object was a frack pond before it would be considered as a candidate and verified internally.A few hundred volunteers scanned the images and what emerged was a map of 529 ponds in 2013, showing an increase from just 11 such impoundments in Pennsylvania in 2005. It also showed the ballooning size of such ponds over the years.The findings, released in October, already are being used by researchers at Johns Hopkins University who are studying the health impacts of living close to shale gas development sites.SkyTruth calls its FrackFinder approach “‘armchair citizen science’ that you can do from the comfort of your own home.”

via Crowdsourcing the shale |

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