As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Kirk Jalbert and how he works to document oil and gas development’s impacts on communities with FracTracker Alliance.
Time with FracTracker: I started with FracTracker in 2012 as a visiting researcher. I came on full-time in August 2015 after finishing my Ph.D.
Education: Ph.D. in science and technology studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; M.F.A. in media arts from the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts; and B.S. in computer science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Title: Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement
What do you actually do in that role?
The gist of my work at FracTracker is about understanding the social and political dynamics of community-based research, and how knowledge that stems from those efforts can empower people to influence decision-making about the industry. Along these lines, I direct a number of efforts in different states where we work with people using participatory research methods to document and communicate their concerns related to oil and gas development. These range from teaching people how to use the FracTracker mobile app to compiling digital storytelling projects.
Previous Positions and Organizations:
Prior to starting my Ph.D. work in 2010 I taught for nearly ten years in the Cultural Studies & Communications program at Clark University. For three of those years I was also a caretaker at a Massachusetts Audubon Society nature sanctuary.
How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?
As I suspect is the case with many people who don’t live in oil and gas communities, these topics were nowhere on my mental map a decade ago. I grew up in Eastern Massachusetts and knew very little about the energy industry. Most people there turn on the stove, gas comes out of the pilot, and you don’t know much about where it comes from. When I was a Ph.D. student I was asked to join a research team in 2010 to study citizen science water monitoring groups responding to shale gas development in Pennsylvania and New York. When we finished the project I had many remaining questions: What was happening with all of their data? How can data be used to mobilize people to take action? I received NSF funds to continue the work and relocated to Pittsburgh. That’s when I met FracTracker.
What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?
I think that all of the projects I’ve been involved in are impactful in different ways. Knowing Our Waters did a lot to show how sophisticated the citizen science community is in the region. The Allegheny Lease Mapping Project is a huge resource for people wanting to understand patterns of future oil and gas development in Southwest PA. Of late, I’ve put a lot of energy into exploring how we can identify patterns of environmental injustice related to the industry. Two recent pieces get at these issues. The first is our story map showing how environmental justice rules in Pennsylvania have missed the mark in protecting marginalized communities. That got a lot of mileage, including with my fellow members at the DEP’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board. The second is our piece on Bella Romero, a predominantly Hispanic and Latino middle school in Colorado threatened by drilling on an adjacent lot. Kyle Ferrar and I visited the site and did a “rapid response” article that local advocacy groups have used to canvas neighborhoods and to get the attention of the school board. At present the project is on hold pending review by the state’s oil and gas regulators.