Blog Posts and Media Coverage

Key findings from the WKMP are highlighted in the following blog posts and articles.

Mapping the Gaps: Spatial and Social Inequalities of Water Monitoring,” FracTracker, Knowing Our Waters series. [Contains interactive maps]

Lack of action from state and federal government means that community organisations are picking up the slack of monitoring the effects of fracking in the Northeast,” London School of Economics, USA Politics and Policy Blog.

Research featured in: Thomason, Robert, “Collection of ‘Big Data’ by Citizens Helps Shape Debate on Marcellus Shale Fracking,” Bloomberg Water Law & Policy Monitor, November 2013. PDF available here.


This research project resulted in several academic publications. The abstracts of these articles are provided here, as well as full copies of the papers, when permitted by the journal. If you would like copies of any of these publications, please contact Abby Kinchy ( and she will be happy to provide them.

Kinchy, Abby (2017) “Citizen Science and Democracy: Participatory Water Monitoring in the Marcellus Shale Fracking Boom,” Science as Culture 26(1): 88-110.

Abstract: Projections—the way that people collectively talk about the future—shape action in the present. This sociological observation has implications for citizen science initiatives that aim to confront powerful industries and produce social change. When people participate in citizen science associations—such as watershed monitoring organizations, the subject of this study—their actions and democratic sensibilities are affected by the ways that organizers and other volunteers project the future uses of the environmental data they are collecting. In this case, hundreds of people are participating in volunteer watershed monitoring groups in response to the “fracking” boom in the northeastern United States. Most of these efforts emphasize the collection of “baseline” data, which they view as essential to future efforts to hold polluters accountable. However, these projects tend to channel public concern about fracking toward future scientific controversies, instead of political action now to prevent pollution. Furthermore, baseline watershed monitoring efforts reinforce the epistemology of regulatory agencies, rather than generating alternative forms of knowledge about watershed health. Organizers actively work to convince volunteers that their work has meaning and that they are being empowered, but future-oriented data collection is often at odds with volunteers’ current-day motivations. Scholars and activists have often heralded citizen science as a way to radically democratize environmental governance; however, to achieve this, citizen science must project futures that stimulate transformative actions in the present.

Kinchy, Abby, Sarah Parks, and Kirk Jalbert (2016) “Fractured knowledge: mapping the gaps in public and private water monitoring efforts in areas affected by shale gas development,” Environment and Planning C: Government & Policy 34(5): 879-899.

Abstract: Spatial gaps in environmental monitoring have important consequences for public policy and regulation of new industrial developments. In the case of Marcellus Shale gas extraction, a water-intensive new form of energy production that is taking place in the state of Pennsylvania (USA), the perception of large gaps in government water monitoring efforts have motivated numerous civil society organizations (CSOs) to initiate their own monitoring programs. Using geospatial mapping, this study reveals that nearly half of the watersheds in the region lack government water monitoring, and CSOs are the sole source of continuous or frequent monitoring data in 22% of the watersheds. While many watersheds remain unmonitored, the gaps do not map on to demographic characteristics typically associated with environmental injustice. This study probes both the reasons for and the implications of the gaps in watershed monitoring, drawing conclusions about the promise and limitations of citizen science.

Jalbert, Kirk and Abby Kinchy (2016) “Sense and Influence: Environmental Monitoring Tools and the Power of Citizen Science,” Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 18(3): 379-397.

Abstract: Automated monitoring devices are useful technologies for communities seeking to document and solve environmental problems. However, without deeper scrutiny of their design and deployment, there is a risk that they will fail to have the impact that many of their promoters intend. We develop a rubric for analysing how different kinds of monitoring devices help environmental advocates influence public debates. We apply this rubric in a study of environmental organizations in Pennsylvania that are choosing between recruiting volunteer citizen scientists and using automated sensor-based devices to gather water quality data in streams threatened by hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Many organizations rely on volunteers using simple monitoring tools because they are affordable and produce easily managed data sets. An argument for this method of monitoring is that volunteering in the field also fosters citizen engagement in environmental debates. By comparison, we find the increased use of automated devices tends to reinforce hierarchies of expertise and constrains the agendas of nonprofessionals who participate in monitoring projects. We argue that these findings suggest that automated technologies, however effective they may be in gathering data on environmental quality, are not well designed to support broad public participation in environmental science and politics.

Kinchy, Abby, Kirk Jalbert, and Jessica Lyons (2014) “What is Volunteer Water Monitoring Good For? Fracking and the Plural Logics of Participatory Science,” Political Power and Social Theory 27(2): 259-289.

Abstract: This paper responds to recent calls for deeper scrutiny of the institutional contexts of citizen science. In the last few years, at least two dozen civil society organizations in New York and Pennsylvania have begun monitoring the watershed impacts of unconventional natural gas drilling, also known as “fracking.” This study examines the institutional logics that inform these citizen monitoring efforts and probes how relationships with academic science and the regulatory state affect the practices of citizen scientists. We find that the diverse practices of the organizations in the participatory water monitoring field are guided by logics of consciousness-raising, environmental policing, and science. Organizations that initiate monitoring projects typically attempt to combine two or more of these logics as they develop new practices in response to macro-level social and environmental changes. The dominant logic of the field remains unsettled, and many groups appear uncertain about whether and how their practices might have an influence. We conclude that the impacts of macro-level changes, such as the scientization of politics, the rise of neoliberal policy ideas, or even large-scale industrial transformations, are likely to be experienced in field-specific ways.

Jalbert, Kirk, Abby J. Kinchy, and Simona L. Perry, (2014) “Civil society research and Marcellus Shale natural gas development: results of a survey of volunteer water monitoring organizations,” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 4(1): 78-86. PDF available here.

Abstract: This paper reports the results of a survey of civil society organizations that are monitoring surface water for impacts of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania and New York. We argue that enlisting volunteers to conduct independent monitoring is one way that civil society organizations are addressing knowledge gaps and the “undone science” of surface water quality impacts related to gas extraction. The survey, part of an ongoing 2-year study, examines these organizations’ objectives, monitoring practices, and financial, technical, and institutional support networks. We find that water monitoring organizations typically operate in networks of two main types: centralized networks, with one main “hub” organization connecting many chapter groups or teams, and decentralized networks, consisting primarily of independent watershed associations and capacity building organizations. We also find that there are two main orientations among water monitoring groups. Roughly, half are advocacy-oriented, gathering data in order to improve regulation, support litigation, and change industry behavior. We characterize the other half as knowledge-oriented, gathering data in order to protect natural resources through education and awareness. Our analysis finds that many monitoring programs function relatively independently of government and university oversight supported instead by a number of capacity building organizations in the field. We argue that this reflects neoliberal tendencies toward increased private responsibility for environmental science. We also find that new participants in the field of water monitoring, mainly large environmental NGOs integral to the operations of centralized networks, are shifting monitoring programs towards more advocacy-oriented objectives. We believe this shift may impact how civil society water monitoring efforts interact with regulatory bodies, such as by taking normative positions and using volunteer-collected data to advocate for policy change.

Kinchy, Abby J. and Simona L. Perry (2012). “Can Volunteers Pick up the Slack? Efforts to Fill Knowledge Gaps about the Watershed Effects of Marcellus Shale Gas Development,” Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum 22(2): 303-340. PDF available here.

Abstract: Since 2008, a natural gas boom has been underway in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as oil and gas companies are pursuing a source of natural gas that was previously considered too difficult to access—the Marcellus Shale. Activities associated with development of the Marcellus Shale, including the handling of large quantities of hazardous waste water, and land use changes leading to soil erosion and runoff, are likely to pose significant environmental risks and cause contamination of streams, ponds, and other surface water if not managed properly. In response to the relative lack of regulatory or professional monitoring of watershed degradation, private citizens are increasingly taking the task of environmental monitoring into their own hands, forming volunteer watershed monitoring groups and using an array of tests to detect water pollution. Public agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and university scientists, such as researchers at Pennsylvania State University, are encouraging these activities as a supplement to monitoring by regulatory scientists and as a source of data for environmental research. Many water monitoring groups also believe that their scrutiny will encourage the industry to be on its best behavior. In this paper, we offer an assessment of this increasingly prevalent model of environmental governance, which relies primarily upon self-funded volunteers to monitor and report environmental impacts. Civil society research2 appears to offer a promising way to gather environmental data at a time when government agencies are struggling to keep up with a rapidly expanding industry. It is therefore essential to understand the scope of these volunteer projects and to critically consider their role in the larger effort to gather environmental data.


We have made numerous presentations about this research. Here are a few presentations that have slides or a poster available for download.

“Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project: Are efforts to monitor the water quality impacts of shale gas development evenly distributed across affected counties?” Poster Session, presented by Abby Kinchy and Kirk Jalbert at the 2nd Annual Shale Network Workshops, Penn State University, May 2013. Available here.

“EarthWeek: Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project,” featured at the Sensing Environments EarthWeek Festival, RPI Sustainability Research Network, April 2013. Available here.

“Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project: Investigating Efforts to Monitor the Water Quality Impacts of Marcellus Shale Development,” presented by Abby Kinchy at the Community Science Institute Volunteer Symposium, March 2013. CSI presentation March 2013 with notes.

“Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project: Investigating Efforts to Monitor the Water Quality Impacts of Marcellus Shale Development,” presented by Kirk Jalbert at the Sierra Club NY Water Sentinels Summit, Binghamton University, January 19, 2013. Available here.

“Sociopolitical Dynamics of Volunteer Watershed Monitoring in the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Boom,” presented by Kirk Jalbert at the Boom & Bust Symposium, Duquesne University, November 12-13, 2012. Available here.

“Mapping Knowledge Investments During the Marcellus Shale Gas Rush,” presented at the Society for Freshwater Science Annual Meeting, May 23-25, 2012. Available here.