Our thoughts and opinions about gas extraction and related topics
As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Shannon and her passion for environmental justice and public health that led her to FracTracker
Staff Spotlight: Shannon Smith
Time with FracTracker: I just started in May 2019!
Education: BA in Cultural Anthropology from Reed College in Portland, OR
Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Title: Manager of Communications and Development
What will you actually do in that role?
FracTracker’s mission is to “study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation.” I’ll be focusing on the “communicate” part of our mission!
This is my very first post for FracTracker, but I will be writing many more in this role. I’ll also be maintaining the website, acting as a media liaison, managing the internship program, and supporting the Executive Director with fundraising efforts.
Essentially I will be learning as much as I can about ongoing issues around fracking, regional oil and natural gas projects, and FracTracker research, and then sharing what I find in educational, useful, and compelling ways. I’m very excited to get started!
Previous Position and Organization
During the past five years, I worked with several environmental public health nonprofits in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. I primarily worked as the Marketing Adviser for SOIL, an R&D organization that operates fecal waste management services and is globally recognized for their work in urban ecological sanitation. More recently, I was working as a Communications and Development Consultant for Second Mile Haiti, an organization that collaborates with Haitian public health institutions and provides research-based holistic medical services for families who face severe food insecurity and malnutrition in rural Northern Haiti.
How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?
It’s part of my personality to be concerned with justice — even in elementary school, I was writing letters to my school principal concerning issues that I found to be unfair to the student body. And I grew up spending a lot of time outside in a rural area in Northwestern Pennsylvania. So I think my passion for environmental justice came together naturally at a relatively young age.
Before my time in Haiti, I was a environmental justice activist in the Pacific Northwest. The group I worked with was largely focused on preventing companies from obtaining permits to turn the beautiful bioregion into a fossil fuel corridor that would lead to a series of coal export terminals. The movement against these coal export terminals was quite successful, which inspired me and opened my eyes to a world of possibilities for futures that are more firmly grounded in ecological sustainability and social justice.
I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from community organizers and activists in the Pacific Northwest who come from a long lineage of inspirational environmental and social movements. I’m also thankful for my peers who helped me to connect the dots between structural racism, settler-colonialism, employment and housing issues, public health, and climate change.
Fracking is an issue that can be found in these intersections, so when moving back to my home state of Pennsylvania after over ten years of study and work, it was on the forefront of my mind. Climate change and our relationship to fossil fuels are fundamental issues that define this period of time on Earth, and I want to be part of the solution.
What is one of the most impactful projects you are excited to be involved in with FracTracker?
Together, the FracTracker team has an astonishing level of expertise around fracking. I’m excited to learn from my fellow staff members and to make all of that knowledge accessible to others who want to take action in their own communities.
Fracking is dangerously under-regulated and therefore unaccountable. FracTracker is creating tools, maps, and knowledge to equip individuals, local organizations, and communities with more power to hold industry accountable. I am excited to network with people who find FracTracker’s work useful and see how we can create powerful synergies and alternative futures.
By Shannon Smith, FracTracker’s Manager of Communications and Development
Help Us Celebrate Our Visitation Milestone with a Gift Today
FracTracker was launched in June of 2010 as a website managed by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh. As we approach our ninth birthday, we are pleased to announce quite a milestone: FracTracker.org has reached over one million users! As of April, 2019, the website has experienced over 1,375,041 visits with more than 1,055,171 users.
That’s a lot of people learning about the detrimental effects of extraction – advocates, researchers, community leaders, politicians, journalists, concerned residents. Many are inspired to take action, utilizing our maps, data, and images for positive change.
The FracTracker team is tireless in their efforts to illuminate issues and aid communities with data-driven resources. Sustaining and coordinating the work can be tiring and financially draining. GIS costs, investments in personnel, improvements in our technology, strategic planning, continuing education…the list goes on but so do our services, day after day.
In honor of our ‘one million’ milestone, please consider a donation to FracTracker Alliance. We’d be ecstatic with a $1 million contribution (I might pass out from sheer joy) but we’ll be thrilled by whatever support you can offer – whether it’s $100, $10, or $1.
We don’t ask incessantly, but occasionally we must and this seems like a proper occasion. Help us celebrate our expanding reach with a donation today. We lament the necessity, but know that someday our work, and the collective activities of individuals and organizations around the globe, will yield the ultimate payoff: a healthier energy future for all. Thank you for caring!
FracTracker Alliance celebrates February, the “month of love,” as we do most months – by striving to help people and the planet. A few weeks ago, we sent checks to four organizations who were recipients of our December “spreading the cheer initiative,” receiving half our online donations that month in honor of the four winners of the 2018 Community Sentinel Award. The beneficiaries included Redeemer Community Partnership (Los Angeles, CA), SkyTruth (Shepherdstown, WV), League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (Erie, CO), and Clean Air Council (Philadelphia, PA). Thanks to our December donors for providing a total of $860 to these important groups.
Our care extends beyond our nonprofit brethren to directly address Mother Earth. Less than 120 miles north of my office, Pine Creek flows to the Susquehanna River, draining nearly 1,000 square miles and encompassing one of the highest concentrations of exceptional value and high quality streams anywhere in the Keystone state. The creek’s breathtaking 47-mile gorge is known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the Pine Creek watershed has been inundated by hundreds of unconventional and conventional natural gas wells and the pipelines, compressor stations, impoundments and access roads that accompany oil and gas development. It is estimated that in the watershed’s Tiadaghton State Forest, more than 1,000 acres have already been disturbed by gas operations. Much of this degradation has occurred in the last 10 years. With wilderness in the balance, FracTracker – with support from the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds – is examining what a decade of drilling means for this treasured landscape and its beloved woods and waters.
Over the next few months, we aim to construct a digital atlas – ripe with vivid, detailed maps and data – to tell the story of the changes in this emblematic place. The capstone will be an extensive field documentation tour using staff and volunteers deployed with cameras and the FracTracker mobile app. With the help of groups like the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, Save Pennsylvania Forests Coalition, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Middle Susquehanna RiverKeeper, LightHawk, and others, images from the ground and air will be collected and included in the atlas project. The final product will be an invaluable tool to educate diverse audiences about the risks of natural gas development on Pine Creek, the Susquehanna watershed, and our public lands.
Near and far – for people, the planet, and precious watersheds like Pine Creek – there’s so much to do. Please consider becoming a FracTracker recurring monthly donor. Your gesture warms our hearts, nurtures our work, and sows hope –with invaluable information, tenacious solidarity, and the unstoppable spirit of love.
By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance
Fracking has made a real mess of things – sullying our air, befouling our water, disrupting communities. Ethane and other hydrocarbons feed plastic production, accelerating the global plastic pollution crisis while the planet warms out of control.
It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.
Last week I traveled to Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, a quiet town along the Susquehanna, the mother river to the treasured Chesapeake Bay. Around Wyalusing, fracking consumes the landscape, and a planned 265-acre natural gas liquefaction complex promises more madness: around the clock trucking of volatile cargoes. Imagine watching a field behind your home morph into a sprawling industrial site with hazardous emissions. That story is real. Enough is enough – we need your help.
FracTracker works to illuminate the incursions of this rogue industry. Our maps, data, and analyses support the mounting pushback on infrastructure – from sand mines to pipelines, production wells to waste injection wells. The spectrum of harms is daunting, but our team is motivated to highlight risk and injustice wherever they arise, giving the public the tools and information they need in these David vs. Goliath battles.
Wyalusing is a Native American word meaning “home of the warrior.” Like the people standing their ground in that place today or the army of organizations across America with whom we collaborate, we’re all warriors fighting for a healthy future near and far.
Please give to FracTracker this holiday season. Your donation offers us hope and strength, powering actions that aid, inspire, and facilitate victory. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
FracTracker will soon eclipse one million unique visitors to our website, underscoring that we are and shall remain a valued resource for advocacy, education, and research until the glorious day fossil fuels fade into history. Until then, on behalf of our staff and board, thank you for your ongoing support and warm wishes for a safe and joyous holiday season.
Pittsburgh, PA – Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced their decision to issue a permit for the construction of Shell’s Falcon ethane pipeline project in southwest PA. FracTracker Alliance is extremely disappointed that DEP is allowing this project to proceed despite heavy opposition from the public and unaddressed concerns for the safety and well-being of nearby residents and the surrounding environment.
The past year has seen countless issues from the construction of new pipelines in the Commonwealth – from hundreds of “inadvertent returns,” (spills of bentonite drilling mud) along the path of the Mariner East II project to the catastrophic explosion of the week-old Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County. These reoccurring and serious incidents make it clear that oil and gas midstream companies are rushing to put infrastructure in place, and DEP and other regulatory agencies have been failing in their mission to adequately supervise the process.
According to data from the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there were 108 pipeline incidents in Pennsylvania between January 2010 and mid-July 2018, resulting in 8 fatalities, 15 injuries, requiring over 1,100 people to be evacuated from their homes, and causing more than $66 million in property damage. This track record, which does not include the Revolution Pipeline explosion in September of 2018, is frankly unacceptable.
Certainly, the Commonwealth has invested heavily in the Shell Ethane Cracker facility, offering steep tax subsidies and even paying the global petrochemical giant $2.10 for every barrel of ethane it consumes from Pennsylvania wells, equivalent to $1.6 billion over the next 25 years. It appears to FracTracker that these business arrangements have made the continued extraction and exploitation of hydrocarbons the priority for DEP, not protecting the environment and health and safety of Pennsylvanians, as the mission of the Department suggests is their focus. DEP’s decision also traces an unfortunate pattern of opaqueness and poor timing by announcing unpopular decisions right before the holidays.
Fundamentally, oil and gas companies like Shell exist to make profits, and will therefore make decisions to maximize earnings and limit their costs, if left to their own devices. This approach is often directly at odds with public safety, so Pennsylvania entrusts DEP to oversee the operations. FracTracker feels that with their decision to move forward with the project on December 20, 2018, DEP brushed over dozens of substantial concerns regarding the Falcon ethane pipeline project, and therefore failed in this mission. We remain unconvinced that the “appropriate construction techniques and special conditions” required by DEP will adequately protect the environment and health and safety of residents along the Falcon pipeline route.
Dec. 21st Update: After this article was written, FracTracker learned that Ohio’s EPA issued an air quality permit for the cracker plant in Belmont County, Ohio on December 21st. The short public comment period and the rush to issue permits again illustrates that significant public health and environmental concerns are given minimal importance versus corporate wishes and political expediency. The regulatory paradigm is broken. The public has been ill served by the agencies entrusted to safeguard their interests. A collective regional voice should be raised in protest.
About FracTracker Alliance
Started in 2010 as a southwestern Pennsylvania area website, FracTracker Alliance is now a national organization with regional offices across the United States in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, New York, Ohio, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Its goal is to support advocacy groups at the local, regional and national level, informing their actions to positively shape our nation’s energy future. www.fractracker.org
Learn more about FracTracker’s coverage of the Falcon ethane pipeline project by exploring the posts below:
Can you believe the end of the year is almost here? How time flies when you’re busy…
We are reaching out to you today to ask if you could help us spread the cheer this holiday season. For any donations FracTracker receives in the month of December, we will share half the contributions equally amongst four worthy organizations selected by this year’s Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship recipients.
Any time you give to FracTracker you help us support frontline oil and gas communities and organizations with pivotal insights and resources to protect what they hold dear. With just $100, we can provide a custom map to a community fighting the environmental and health impacts of the oil and gas industry.
And in December your money will go even further! In the spirit of the Sentinel Awards, help us spread the cheer by donating before January 1st.
With Much Gratitude,
Executive Director and Sentinel Award Coordinator
To say the November 6th election is important might be the understatement of the century. With a climate in peril, fossil fuel interests eviscerating the planet, and politicians sowing discord and demonizing those in greatest need, the voice of the people must be heard from sea to shining sea and everywhere in between.
The hate and horror of the Pittsburgh massacre shook us to our core. It was an act of despicable violence on the victims and everyone in America. Depravity upon humanity takes other forms – whether it’s malice towards people yearning for a better life or atrocities against nature perpetrated by the oil and gas industry. Darkness tears at our society and the ecological and community fabric with which it is woven.
Our hearts ache for those killed or wounded at the synagogue. The murders were premeditated madness. Less obvious and excruciating are vile efforts to compromise civility, compassion, democracy, and wellness for political gain or profit.
We may have reached a new low, but we climb higher. The Tree of Life, while shaken, stands strong. Rooted in justice and sowing seeds of mercy, it is nurtured by light and an endless stream of stewards caring for the earth and one another. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote of next week’s election, “hate is on the ballot.” In the spirit of love manifest after last week’s tragedy, let’s gather at the polls on Tuesday and, together, shape history.
By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance
Need voter information? Check out Rock the Vote
Feature photo by Aaron Burden via Good Free Photos
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has come a long way. While still challenged by air and water pollution, the sun shines on the city – my city – revealing a place of promise. Greenways embrace our rivers, solar energy sprouts on rooftops, innovation and entrepreneurship blossom block-by-block. The new Pittsburgh is vibrant, hopeful, and alive.
But an ominous cloud could darken the region for decades – and I’m not referring to the chaotic weather that climate change is already delivering.
No, the approaching storm is petrochemical development – from monstrous ethane crackers poised to inundate the world with toxic plastic, to an acceleration of destructive fracking and pipeline construction pumping fuel and feedstock to these hazardous facilities. Call it a dystopia, but if greed prevails, it will infest our region and others, as well.
I am proud of the accomplishments of the many environmental organizations I work with every day. They all are impressive. Each offers unique strengths and talents to improve communities and protect the natural world. I have been an admirer of FracTracker Alliance for many years. Born in the Burgh, they’ve branched out and collaborate nationwide to show and tell about the harms of extraction (and everything it represents) through their amazing maps and data-driven insights. Whether it’s in local meetings, statewide hearings, or national reports, their information arms advocates for better energy development and sustainable solutions. Their cool digital apps equip anyone – and hopefully everyone – with tools they can use to report oil and gas impacts wherever they happen.
We need to fight petrochemical expansion on every front. In addition to an army of caring people, the battle requires data, visualizations, outreach, and technology – services that FracTracker offers with abundance and often at no cost to the user. Please consider a donation to FracTracker as they launch their Annual Fund Campaign for 2018-2019.
FracTracker is lean and efficient, but it takes ample funding to continue to do what they do so well. Please give. We have a long struggle ahead, but with generosity and fortitude our hope-filled vision will prevail.
Annual Fund Chair
FracTracker is pleased to join thousands of other organizations across the U.S. and around the world participating in Rise for Climate – a global day of action on Saturday, September 8th – to demand our leaders at every level of government commit to building a fossil fuel free world. We encourage all of our partners, supporters, followers, and website users to find and participate in an event near them.
The time has arrived for renewable energy, heightened efficiency, and smart policies that reduce carbon emissions and encourage healthy and just economies. With unequivocal science and data on our side, the swift, frightening realities of climate change must be shared loudly and boldly. The clean energy path to prosperity must be illuminated in the public’s eye. A recent analysis by E2 shows the country had nearly 3.2 million Americans working in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean energy jobs in 2017. These jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs 3 to 1. Working together, we can add to these numbers and accelerate the transition off fossil fuels.
Rise for Climate is a chance to demonstrate your concern, speak your mind, and resolve to fight for a habitable future. FracTracker staff will be out, too, doing their part. From San Francisco to Lansing, NY and Harrisburg, PA, we’re leading and engaging in activities – because it’s too important to stay home.
What are you doing tomorrow? The future is now.
By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance