Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania Fracking Story Map
Feature image of a MarkWest Energy Hopedale cryogenic plant in Harrison County, Ohio, November 2020.
Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance.
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An update on FracTracker’s aerial survey of unconventional oil and gas infrastructure and activities in northeast Pennsylvania to southern Ohio and central West Virginia
It has been several years since we updated our audience on the aerial surveying, we have been doing in collaboration with our partners at LightHawk and my trusty DJI Mavic drone. What we have seen in places like Pennsylvania’s Loyalsock State Forest, Central West Virginia, and Guernsey County, Ohio over the last couple of years would be impossible to believe if we had not seen it with our own eyes. We have seen corporate welfare when Pennsylvania handed over the public’s commons for pennies on the dollar to the fracking industry, poorly regulated gas gathering pipelines traversing beautiful forests and hollers of West Virginia, and a massive natural gas power plant construction site that has so altered the lives of neighborhoods in Byesville, Ohio.
As to the latter situation I was so moved by the stories of Kevin and Marlene Young that I was compelled to revisit this site several times to document Caithness’ construction process. This power plant is being built atop an abandoned underground pillar coal mine that had to be filled in to stabilize the site, resulting in a massive amount of earth moving and dust! For more on the plight of Kevin and Marlene please look at the amazing story Julie Grant at the Allegheny Front in December of 2020.
Our updated aerial survey is part of a larger effort to compile our industry imagery in a more organized and topical way than we have in prior years. This effort by me and Rebecca Johnson resulted in a new imagery platform hosted on Flickr that is organized by topic and location (i.e., All images are georeferenced). We started this migration exercise at the outset of COVID in March of 2020 and to date we have uploaded nearly 2,000 photos parsed into nearly 50 albums that have been viewed 212,000 since the Fall of 2020. These albums include the refinery corridor from Corpus Christi, Texas up to the frac sand mines of West Central Wisconsin, on into the 48217-zip code of Southwest Detroit, and east to the Loyalsock State Park. We were recently honored to present this effort at Halt The Harm’s Friday Coffee Hour a couple weeks ago and you can find that presentation here. Additionally, these images have played an integral role in various publications and presentations including a Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland presentation I gave with Dr. Deb Cowden in April of 2021 as part of their Earth Day festivities.
Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania Fracking Story Map
This interactive story map explores fracking infrastructure in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia through aerial imagery. Explore six different geographies using the tabs on the top menu. This story map is best viewed on a desktop in full screen.
I decided to distill this story map down to the geographies where I have spent most of my time in the last couple years: Northeastern Pennsylvania down along the Ohio River to the Ohio counties of Belmont and Monroe. I have grown quite fond of this region’s landscapes and its people many of whom have continuously been in the crosshairs of the resource extractives industry and to varying degrees have pushed back or welcomed the associated boom-bust cycles.
Regardless, it is critical that we tell the stories of these communities and ecosystems to outsiders that have developed overly generalized and extremely disconnected narratives about Appalachia. My goal with this imagery has always been to reconnect the fracking industry to its complete suite of activities and impacts because they have spent way too long decoupling themselves from their needs in terms of infrastructure, waste disposal, and water demands all along the supply chain from well pad to processing and export infrastructure along river valleys or coastal hubs like Corpus Christi and the Gulf Coast more broadly.
To keep the focus of this map on the images rather than the data, I decided to keep the underlying data simple. The map includes a couple of our most unique and recent data sets, which are natural gas compressors and gas gathering pipelines across the three states. The former was recently updated by the fantastic FracTracker intern Jack Warren out of the Washington, DC area. You can find Jack’s write-up of this work using Bradford County, Pennsylvania as a microcosm for his methodology here.
This kind of aerial imagery would not be possible without the amazing partnership we’ve developed with the good folks at LightHawk who in their own words are “conservation scientists working with the leading environmental groups on the continent, showing them how aviation can augment their work, in perhaps unexpected ways, and creating flight campaigns that achieve significant conservation outcomes.”
I could not agree more with this statement and would argue that LightHawk does so much more than “augment” the work of nonprofits like ours. They allow us to confirm things we suspected on the ground and often force us to think about things in an entirely different way. An example of just that is the gathering pipeline data mentioned above. If it were not for some of the flights LightHawk made happen for me years ago, I would never have understood the scale and scope of these omnipresent pipelines that remain so poorly understood, unlike the FERC regulated transmission pipelines we all rightfully spend so much time on. In this instance, LightHawk didn’t just improve something that FracTracker was doing, but they actually opened my eyes to something I hadn’t thought to look at given my “boots on the ground” perspective.
Fast forward to fall 2019 and an extremely revelatory flight we conducted with LightHawk pilot Scott Humphries out of Houston. We managed to 1) fly from San Antonio down to Corpus Christi looking at the frac sand mines outside the former and the ubiquitous oil and gas infrastructure throughout the Eagle Ford Shale in between the two cities, 2) fly all over Corpus Christi Bay and the Tule Lake Ship Channel looking at all manner of oil and gas infrastructure including refineries, the Exxon-SABIC cracker, and even the site where some of the world’s largest offshore drill rigs are built, and 3) travel along the Texas Gulf from Corpus Christi up to Houston to document the massive amount of oil and gas infrastructure to include the Houston Ship Channel.
All this imagery was tirelessly and elegantly incorporated by Rebecca Johnson into a project she called “Channels of Life: The Gulf Coast Buildout in Texas” and one that would not have been possible without the generous support and guidance of Errol Summerlin and the Coastal Alliance to Protect Our Environment (CAPE) and Kevin Sims at the Aransas Bay Birding Charters in Corpus Christi.
The Take Away
Once again LightHawk did more than just augment this project by connecting me with an amazing pilot who I still communicate with to this day. I gained a real sense for what unfettered oil and gas buildout means downstream of where it is coming out of the ground. So, it is with this perspective in mind that we thank LightHawk for their priceless contributions to our work and our understanding of the true depth and breadth of fossil fuel buildout. We’ll continue to work with LightHawk to build our imagery database and make these images available to all that need them for their work in combatting the maw of the fossil fuel industry, and every now and then we’ll pull together images like those found in this three-state map that highlight what we’ve seen and what we think our audience needs to see.
References & Where to Learn More
- FracTracker’s free oil and gas imagery
- LightHawk website
- “Channels of Life: The Gulf Coast Buildout in Texas” video and story map by FracTracker
- FracTracker content by state
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