Northeastern Pennsylvania is an area with extensive if scattered infrastructure related to shale gas production. The smells, sounds and sights of fracking infrastructure, including compressor stations, dehydrators, well pads and silica plants, as well as truck traffic, run throughout the landscape (as one citizen map attempts to document).

One of the ways in which one resident, Audrey, in northeastern Pennsylvania has used the Speck particulate matter (PM) device from the Citizen Sense monitoring kit is to take the device on “road trips.”

When Audrey received the Citizen Sense kit she was keen to develop an understanding of the particulate matter levels at various fracking infrastructure. At first she felt that one of the most important sites to get a base measurement for would be the site for a proposed silica plant. Silica is a fine sand that is used in the fluid used in the drilling and fracturing process. Silica is particularly small and mobile, and so can easily travel far distances when airborne, and can also cause significant respiratory problems such as asthma and silicosis.

During the Citizen Sense monitoring workshop hosted in mid-October, a visiting speaker suggested to Audrey that she use a mobile phone charger to power the Speck so that she could do the monitoring on the road. With this approach in mind, Audrey began to identify the multiple different sites she could monitor using the Speck. Instead of using a mobile phone charger, however, Audrey used her laptop to power the monitoring device, and since then she has taken “Ms. Speck” on a number of journeys around the county. At each spot, Audrey stops for around half an hour–15 minutes to let the Speck start up, and 15 minutes to take readings. The images included here show some of Audrey’s journeys and readings taken at different sites.

Readings found throughout the monitoring road trips included a range of readings across the spectrum of air quality, from “unhealthy” to “moderate” and “good.” The roadways in general typically registered values between “moderate” and “unhealthy” for sensitive groups, and some sites of industry demonstrated readings at even higher levels. The Speck bandings coincide with the US Air Quality Index (AQI) levels for air quality related to PM 2.5.

As these are a preliminary readings, the sites identified with particularly problematic air quality could be revisited and monitored on a more systematic basis to begin to establish patterns over time. Monitoring is a practice that can require a systematic and longer-term engagement with environmental disturbances in order to understand whether one high reading translates into a persistent problem, and how this might be addressed.

Audrey has experience monitoring numerous instances of environmental disturbances due to natural gas extraction, including a truck-traffic counting survey during which she used her small “flip” video camera to record sound and images of truck traffic. In this survey, she left her camera in the window and recorded truck traffic as it passed by her house throughout the day.

Audrey is also a member of “Because We Care,” a nonpartisan grassroots group of residents concerned with the proposed development of a silica sand transfer station outside of Tunkhannock, and which is also undertaking air monitoring studies.

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