Research Projects


Defining Environmental Justice in Oil & Gas Communities (more info here)
Unconventional oil & gas drilling has sparked renewed interest in how states consider their environmental justice mandates. Advocacy groups argue that the industry targets marginalized communities, even if only as a consequence of negligent policies. However, the majority of wells are not drilled in EJ areas as defined by current EJ indicators. Trends in EJ research are moving beyond statistical indicators to also recognize the importance of human-environment interactions, political entanglements, and place-based identities. As an EJ researcher, and as member of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s EJ Advisory Board, I have observed how current regulations that rely on outdated assessment frameworks are failing to mitigate the impacts of energy development on marginalized communities. By documenting these discrepancies in partnership with impacted populations (through digital storytelling projects in particular), one begins to reveal the unquantifiable dimensions of marginalization. There is opportunity here to inform policy and to connect advocacy movements realizing new commonalities. 

Allegheny County Lease Mapping Project (more info here)
Systematic and comprehensive access to oil and gas lease data is generally unavailable to residents in Pennsylvania. However, acquiring and mapping of this data would benefit communities by enabling concerned citizens to identify and monitor proposed development by the oil and gas industry before regulatory permits have been issued, as well as by identify geographies that are of particular interest to drilling companies. This FracTracker Alliance project systematically obtained, analyzed, and mapped all oil and gas leasing data in Allegheny County, PA. The first of its kind interactive tool for municipalities, land trusts, and communities leaders to utilize when considering their relationships with the oil and gas industry. The Allegheny County Lease Mapping Project is funded by a grant from the Heinz Endowments.


Knowing Our Waters, A FracTracker Digital Storytelling Project (more info here)
Community-based water monitoring groups have been active in the U.S. since the early 1970s, dealing with issues related to coal mining drainage, agricultural runoff, acid rain, and nonpoint sources of pollution. However, many new efforts have emerged in recent years due to threats posed by extraction industries in the Marcellus Shale. As part of a new FracTracker effort to utilize rich-media digital storytelling techniques to communicate the impacts of oil and gas extraction, the “Knowing Our Waters” project focused on the efforts of community-based water monitoring programs in the Marcellus Shale in order to highlight the important work these groups do in bringing attention to the risks that extraction industries pose to our watersheds. This series ran from 2014-2015, with many of the stories originating as case studies from the dissertation, Promising Data for Public Empowerment. Knowing Our Waters was funded by a grant from the Colcom Foundation.

Building Infrastructures for Civil Society Science (more info here)
installing_loggerThis is an offshoot study stemming from five years of combined fieldwork conducted for the Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project and later in dissertation research. The purpose of this project was to assist the water monitoring community in developing infrastructure-building programs that establish a clear pathway for synergistic collaborations. Through participatory action research, these efforts will focus on: 1) building additional capacity and communication among monitoring groups, 2) engaging in regulation and policy-making, and 3) engaging in community planning and conservation efforts. This project was funded by a grant from the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds.

Dissertation Research: Promising Data for Public Empowerment (more info here)
knowledge_mappingThis research examined tensions that arise in the drive toward using complex environmental information to support local needs for knowledge about polluting industries. These tensions were examined in a study of the volunteer water monitoring groups responding to pollution threats from natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale regions of New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Citizen science groups in these regions are generating extensive amounts of data for use in online databases and GIS systems. They hope these systems will lend greater legitimacy to their science, but prior studies also suggests that by focusing on scientific data alone, citizen science groups may limit their ability to engage environmental issues. The study focused on a number of organizations that play an important role in developing volunteer monitoring protocols, aggregating data, and determining how data will be used. This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the RPI Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) Fellowship.

Mapping Knowledge Knowledge Investments During the Marcellus Shale Gas Rush (more info here)
map1-nggid042787-ngg0dyn-320x240x100-00f0w010c010r110f110r010t010This study, also known as the Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project, ran from September 2011 – August 2013 to examine efforts to monitor the impacts of Marcellus Shale natural gas development on surface water in New York and Pennsylvania. I was the doctoral research assistant to Professor Abby J. Kinchy in the STS department at RPI on this project. Our main purpose was to discover where surface water is being monitored and to document the extent of volunteer and other non-governmental efforts to carry out data collection efforts. A major objective of this project was to identify regions and watersheds that are not being monitored and may require greater attention by governments, researchers, and the public. We collected ethnographic and sociological data to map these knowledge “hot” and “cold” spots using GIS software. Ultimately, our aim was to examine the social production of knowledge and ignorance about the impacts of unconventional shale gas drilling in these areas. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Participatory Sensing Workshop Series (more info here)
workshopsIn the summer of 2011 I visited two field sites on the Navajo Nation to conduct educational workshops using the RPI Community Sensor systems: The Diné Environmental Institute (an NSF funded research group at Diné College) and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) based at Northern Arizona University. By this time the sensor project had evolved into not only the devices themselves, but also a stripped down GIS system. These workshops were designed to solicit conversation about communal responsibility and social justice issues related to environmental monitoring. Much of this focused on community mapping projects and “Participatory GIS” whereby the group uses the sensor technology to not only collect data but also create a local resource map contextualizing their findings.

Culturally Situated Community Sensing (more info here)
Beginning in 2010, this project sprang from a collaboration between myself, and graduate students in the RPI Computer Science Department and in the Electrical, Computer & Systems Engineering department. Based on our prior collaborations with Navajo groups, we realized there was significant potential to develop additional STEM education projects based on participatory environmental science programs. Specifically, we built upon work in participatory environmental monitoring using sensor devices, but like the CSDTs, situated in culturally relevant dialogue. In Spring of 2011 we collaborated with a team of 12 senior capstone design students to develop the sensor. In the summer of 2011 I took the sensor platform the Navajo nation to run a series of workshops in collaboration with educators working in climate change and air quality monitoring.

Culturally Situated Design Tools (more info here)
In the Summer of 2010 Ron Eglash, Professor of STS at RPI, invited me to participate in the Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs) working group to continue developing the Navajo Rug Weaver simulation software. Rug Weaver and its partner CSDTs represent an effort to engage science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) topics in youth education by tapping into cultural artifacts that represent mathematical concepts beyond typical classroom curricula. A number of these tools are guided by Native American traditions connected to mathematical concepts we might otherwise think come from Western Euro-centric scientific traditions. As part of this collaboration I was invited to conduct workshops with research partners on the Navajo Nation at Dine College in Tsaile, AZ.