St. Bonaventure University’s Environmental Studies program and Tread Lightly environmental club will present on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the first in a series of public discussions on citizen engagement in relation to the environmental impact of oil and gas development in the Southern Tier of New York state.
Presented in conjunction with the New York Water Sentinels and Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, the meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the university’s William F. Walsh Science Center Amphitheater.
A discussion will be led by Dr. Kirk Jalbert, an environmental social scientist who recently completed a five-year NSF-funded study of citizen science groups who mobilized across Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia to assess the environmental risks of shale gas extraction.
Jalbert is now the manager of community-based research and engagement for the FracTracker Alliance, a non-profit organization that works with communities to acquire and analyze data, produce maps, and develop digital storytelling projects to communicate the impacts of energy extraction.
The FracTracker Alliance’s mission is founded on the idea that oil and gas data should be accessible to the public, and that citizen scientists play a critical role collecting that information.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on fracking currently blocks hydraulic fracturing in New York State, there are many continuing environmental risks to the quality of surface and drinking water in Cattaraugus County and elsewhere in the Southern Tier, the organizations claim.
Drilling waste, much of it rendered radioactive by the process of fracking, continues to cross from Pennsylvania on trucks destined for the New York state’s waste treatment facilities and landfills near Bath and other border towns. Contamination from frack sites located as close as five miles from the border threaten streams flowing north into New York.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the sheer volume of drilling waste coming into New York, along with other waste, are rapidly filling the landfills, creating pressure to expand capacity and license still more landfills. Ongoing efforts by civic and student groups to recycle and reduce waste are critical to minimizing pressure on the landfills,” said Jerry Faucher, New York Water Sentinel member.
Students from St. Bonaventure and local residents are invited to attend the Oct. 27 discussion to learn about the importance of citizen science, and have an opportunity to take action to protect the area’s precious environment.
Jalbert will describe tools developed by the FracTracker Alliance that allow citizens to submit photos, report problems, and locate nearby gas and oil wells, thus enhancing communication of their concerns and data. He will also describe FracTracker’s protocol for assessing oil train traffic in at-risk neighborhoods, as well as demonstrate FracTracker’s interactive maps that contain oil and gas drilling infrastructures other resources for New York and 37 other states in the U.S.
Attendees will also learn about the New York Water Sentinels, an affiliate of the Sierra Club, and how they can volunteer to monitor streams collecting scientifically accurate data on stream health near their homes in Cattaraugus and nearby counties. The collected data will then be logged into a master database for the entire Southern Tier.
When complete, the assembled data from hundreds of volunteers will comprise a critically needed baseline assessment of stream health that can be used to identify sources of pollution in New York State.
Since December 2011, the Water Sentinels have organized and trained six regional groups. To date, 160 volunteers have made over 1,500 visits to document conditions at 125 stream sites. Streams being monitored span 12 counties and six major watersheds across the Southern Tier.
After Jalbert’s presentation, the groups sponsoring this event will meet briefly to discuss further collaboration among their members.
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