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