Together with partners from around the world, SkyTruth uses the view from space to motivate people to protect the environment. SkyTruth is committed to transparency in all things. In the spirit of that, we wanted to share our annual report with you which covers the impact we’ve been able to have as a watchdog, innovator, and motivator for environmental good.
We’re excited to announce the 2015 update to our Pennsylvania FrackFinder data set! Using the USDA’s most recent high-resolution aerial imagery for Pennsylvania, we’ve updated our maps of the state’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments. Our revised maps show Pennsylvania’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments as of Fall 2015.
Our previous Pennsylvania FrackFinder project identified the location of active well pads in imagery from 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. We are pleased to add the 2015 update to this already rich data set.
The goal of our FrackFinder projects has always been to fill the gaps in publicly available information related to where fracking operations in the Marcellus and Utica Shale were taking place. Regrettably, there are often discrepancies between what’s on paper and what’s on the landscape. Permits for individual oil and gas wells are relatively accessible, but the permits are just approvals to drill: they don’t say if a site is active, when drilling and fracking began or ended, or if development of the drill site ever happened at all.
We compared permit locations against high-resolution aerial imagery from the USDA’s 2015 National Agricultural Inventory Program (NAIP) to determine whether drilling permits issued since the close of our last Pennsylvania FrackFinder project in 2013 were active. There were more than 4,500 drilling permits issued in Pennsylvania during our study period (May 1, 2012, to September 30, 2015), many of them located quite close together. Ultimately, we ended up with roughly 2,000 unique ‘clusters’ of drilling permits to investigate and map.
We look forward to seeing how the public will use these revised data sets. We hope researchers, NGOs and community advocates can use these unique data sets to gain a better understanding of the impact of fracking on Pennsylvania’s environment and public health.
We’ve launched the SkyTruth Spill Tracker, a map-based tool to allow citizens on the ground in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to quickly report oil and hazardous waste spills and other pollution incidents as a result of the storms.
We operated a similar tool, the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, during and after the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010. We also helped the Louisiana Bucket Brigade launch their iWitness Pollution Map. If you’re reporting pollution in Louisiana, you might prefer to use the iWitness map.
How to Submit a Report
Click the + symbol in the upper left corner of the map to report oil, chemical or hazardous waste spills. Follow the prompts to enter a brief description of what you see. If you are able, please upload a photo or video showing the incident and hit submit.
A technology-driven non-profit with a mission to protect the environment by making more of it visible, SkyTruth launched this reporting tool to enable citizens to report environmental pollution as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Read more about related work after the BP oil spill, the Taylor Energy oil spill, and Hurricane Katrina.
We believe if people can easily communicate their needs, organizations and governments can more effectively respond. Federal and state authorities will be able to download the reports in a standard *.csv format, readable by any spreadsheet or database software.
With your help, the SkyTruthSpillTracker should prove to be a useful resource for aiding the response and recovery efforts throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. We encourage everyone impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to use the tracker. We are also interested in coordinating with other groups organizing similar pollution reporting efforts on the ground. Please email suggestions to us at email@example.com.
Today the government of Ecuador took a strong environmental stance with its sentence for the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, a Chinese refrigerated cargo ship (reefer) caught in the Galapagos with the remains of more than 6,000 sharks, including endangered hammerheads. Catching or transporting sharks within the Galapagos Reserve is illegal. The incident set off widespread protests in the Galapagos and in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil. The large fine, coupled with a prison sentence of four years for the vessel’s captain shows the determination of Ecuadorians to defend this unique marine environment.
Along with our partners at Global Fishing Watch, we have taken a detailed look at the past activity of this vessel and found the reefer rendezvoused with a fleet of Chinese longliners in the week just before the vessel’s detention.
According to news reports, a chance sighting of a Chinese cargo vessel within the Galapagos Marine Reserve on Saturday, August 12th, led to a chase and the eventual detention of the vessel by the Ecuadorean Navy the following day. During the hearings, two vessels were named as providing the catch, reported as the Taiwanese vessels Hai Fang 301 and Hai Fang 302. The catch transshipment reportedly occurred between August 5th and 7th more than a thousand miles west of the Galapagos.
Our AIS tracking data does confirm vessel rendezvous on the dates reported but not with the vessels named. The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 is seen departing Fuzhou on the Chinese coast on July 7th and then transiting directly across the Pacific toward Ecuador. On August 5th at a remote location in the Eastern Pacific 1700 miles west of the Galapagos, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 stopped and spent the next three days moving at a slow speed.
Checking for vessels in the vicinity, I found a fleet of four Chinese longliners moving alongside the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 in very close proximity, the Fu Yuan Yu 7866, 7861, 7865, and 7862. No vessels identifying as Hai Fang (more likely Hai Feng) are seen in the vicinity. With distances of only 30 meters between the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 and the Fu Yuan Yu longliners, it appears the longliners were tied up to the cargo vessel with each longliner spending about 12 hours attached to the reefers. These lengthy rendezvous at sea suggest a substantial transfer of cargo was possible.
|Fu Yuan Yu 7866||9828716||BVYT7||412440549|
|Fu Yuan Yu 7861||9828663||BVYX7||412440551|
|Fu Yuan Yu 7865||9828704||BVYS7||412440558|
|Fu Yuan Yu 7862||9828675||BVYY7||412440552|
The practice of at sea transshipment of catch between fishing vessels and refrigerated cargo ships is common but can result in the mixing of fish caught legally and illegally. Transshipment also enables vessel operators to keep their crew at sea for many months on end where they may face abusive labor conditions or even slavery. Transshipments on the high seas are regulated by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO’s).
The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 can be seen rendezvousing with the Chinese longline vessels within the area of the eastern Pacific regulated by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). While the four Chinese longliners are currently authorized to fish by the IATTC, a recent publication of a list of carrier vessels authorized by the IATTC does not include the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999.
Following the track of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, the vessel reached the edge of the Galapagos EEZ on August 12th. At this point, the track of the vessel is broken up by some AIS transmission errors resulting in several extended periods where no location for the vessel came through. While this seemed suspicious, it was possible to check the length of these gaps in the vessel’s track and determine the vessel maintained an average speed of around 10 knots during the hours when the vessel was not trackable. This 10-knot speed matches the vessel’s normal transit speed, and for this reason, it seems unlikely that the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 could have stopped to transship with any local vessels in the vicinity of the Galapagos.
Checking the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999’s track over the past few years shows the vessel was operating in a few locations where suspicious or unregulated fishing activity has been documented. These locations include the northwest Indian Ocean with an unregulated squid fleet through 2016 as documented in a report by Fish-i Africa and East Timor where Chinese vessels expelled from Indonesia have relocated.
Given the history of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, we are encouraged to see the vessel held accountable for its crimes by the Ecuadorian authorities. Our analysis shows four Fu Yuan Yu longliners are likely the source of the catch confiscated from the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. We hope these vessels will also be sanctioned for illegally transferring catch and regulators will take further action to monitor and restrict transshipment at-sea.
Read more details on this story on the blog of our partner Global Fishing Watch.
It’s an exciting time around the office. We finalized our summer research program and added a couple of new faces—interns Brian Wong from Duke University and Flynn Robinson from West Virginia University—to help us expand our skill set and cover more ground.
Brian is helping us improve our mountaintop removal (MTR) mining work. We’ve already mapped the footprint of MTR in 74 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. Our analysis used 30-meter resolution images from the Landsat satellite, and it computed mining footprints on an annual basis. But thanks to an exciting partnership with Planet, we now have access to satellite imagery collected daily with a resolution less than 5-meters. This is a game-changer. This new imagery will let us calculate more accurate and timely impacts of MTR in the Appalachians, and we’re excited to have Brian leading this work!
Flynn is helping us improve our natural gas flaring work. We’ve already mapped the distribution of natural gas flaring across the globe. But the data set that we’ve developed isn’t able to account for clouds or other natural “noise” that can throw off the sensor and create false detections. Yet. But we’re excited to have Flynn leading the effort to validate our flaring data set using the newly available imagery from Planet! We’ll be able to identify flaring events with much greater confidence and if everything goes to plan, send out ‘Flaring Alerts’ so that people can know when a new well is coming online near them.
We’re also very fortunate to have Brady Burker stay with us through the summer. Brady will also be helping us to improve our MTR work. He’ll be adapting the approach that we developed in the Appalachians to map the impact of coal mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Brady’s work will also help deepen our understanding of mining reclamation. Using the data that he creates, we’ll be evaluating the effectiveness of reclamation – looking at whether the environment can return to its previous level of ecological health and productivity. As far as we know, our research will be the first to use a remote-sensing approach to measure reclamation effectiveness, and we’re excited that Brady will be leading this effort!
Monitoring for offshore oil spills and tracking the impact of hydraulic fracturing will round out our research priorities this summer. We’re excited about the opportunities to create and share these powerful data sets, apply them to real-world conservation problems, and generate public and policy engagement that can make meaningful change. Thanks for staying around, Brady, and welcome to SkyTruth, Brian and Flynn!
-Ry Covington, PhD
Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.
Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.
Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.
Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.
AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.
Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.
VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.
Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:
You can see it here in full-screen mode:
We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.
Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.
None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.
Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!
Hi, my name is Jerrilyn Goldberg. Over the course of two months last summer I worked as an intern at SkyTruth. In September I started my junior year at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, majoring in environmental studies and physics. Over the course of my internship I contributed to SkyTruth’s Mountaintop Removal (MTR) research by creating a mask to block out rivers, roads, and urban areas that could be confused with mining activity by our analytical model. I also helped classify many of the ~1.1 million control points that allow us assess the accuracy of our MTR results.
In addition to the MTR project, I created a story map illustrating the development of Marcellus Shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Pennsylvania, and discussing the environmental and public health consequences fracking is having on some rural Pennsylvania communities. Check it out here. Through my research for the story map, I learned about the hydraulic fracturing process. I also learned about many of the political and social complexities surrounding the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, including conflicts between economic and community interests. Our goal with this story map is to present an accessible and accurate narrative about the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, which begins with understanding what’s actually going on now.
I started by learning about SkyTruth’s FrackFinder Pennsylvania data and methodology from the 2013 project. I read through our GitHub repository and figured out why the FrackFinder team chose their methodology and what the results represented. (While I was familiar with the general concept of the project, I did not know much about the specifics beforehand.) With this in mind, I set out to update the dataset with well pads built after 2013.
I quickly realized that this task presented many questions such as, which of the many state oil and gas datasets actually contained the information I sought. I selected the Spud Data, which contains all of the individual locations where operators have reported a drilling start-date for a permitted well. I filtered to include only unconventional horizontal wells drilling for natural gas and excluded those reported as ‘not drilled.’ To account for some missing drilling locations which I noticed while reviewing the latest Google base map imagery, I also download the Well Inventory Dataset which includes all permitted oil and gas wells along with their status. From here I filtered out all the spuds and wells not listed as drilled in 2014, 2015, or 2016 and joined the files. After joining the layers, I formed a well pad dataset by creating a 150 meter buffer around the wells, dissolving overlapping areas, then locating the centers of each buffer. This step effectively says ‘create a 150 m radius circle around each point, but when these overlap, clump them into one circle, then find the center of that new circle.’ Finally, I found all the buffers that overlapped with FrackFinder drilling locations from 2013 and earlier, and eliminated all of those centroids.
A quick note about the imagery: USDA collects high resolution aerial imagery as part of the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), which at the time of my project was last collected for Pennsylvania in 2015. While I worked hard to eliminate inaccurate points, I was unable to verify all of these with the existing NAIP imagery. That said, I found that the other points accurately represented the general well pad locations and thus chose to include the points for the first half of 2016, even though I obviously couldn’t verify the existence of those recent drilling locations on the mid-summer 2015 NAIP imagery.
At the same time I found The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC’s) 2010 Energy Impact Analysis, which looked at the predicted development of wind, shale gas, and wood fuel usage in Pennsylvania. Part of TNC’s study identified three construction scenarios for how many wells and well pads could be built in Pennsylvania by 2030. With an assumption that 60,000 new wells would be drilled between 2010 and 2030, the study predicted between 6000 and 15000 new well pads would be built to host those wells. Each scenario featured a different distance between pads and a different number of wells per pad (because that number stays constant at 60,000 new wells). I found some data from TNC’s study hidden on an old SkyTruth backup with help from Christian and David. With the FrackFinder data, my update, and the ‘informed scenarios’ in hand, I started trying to figure out an appropriate way to synthesize the three datasets, to identify which TNC drilling scenario best fits what is actually happening..
One roadblock in conducting a thorough analysis and comparison was that TNC’s research makes a quantitative prediction about the possible volume of infrastructure development instead of a more tangible spatial prediction. The study distributes the predicted numbers of new well pads across the counties of Pennsylvania, which overlay the region of Marcellus Shale with ideal conditions for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. All of the included counties now contain at least one well pad. I did notice that since 2010, about 1/3 of the well pads estimated by the low impact scenario (6000 well pads) have already been constructed. If the rate of development between 2010 and 2016 remains constant, Pennsylvania will surpass TNC’s low impact scenario.
“Fracking Pennsylvania” uses maps and other media to create a narrative of hydraulic fracturing and its consequences. While originally intended for the community members we work with in southern Pennsylvania, I hope this story map becomes a useful tool for many different communities grappling with fracking.
While I have my time in the Watchdog spotlight, I want to publicly thank everyone here for welcoming me into the awesome world of SkyTruth. I’m so grateful for the learning opportunities I had last summer and for all of the support I received. Special thanks to Christian for introducing me to SkyTruth and to John for helping me improve my Story Map even though he is definitely one of the busiest people in the office. I look forward to sharing my experience through the Carleton Internship Ambassador program this year.