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.