WARREN: The lack of information about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Marcellus shale of Pennsylvania led to the formation of FracTracker in mid-2010.
The group, now known as the FracTracker Alliance, has moved into Northeast Ohio with Ted Auch as its one-man operation.
The goal of the nonprofit group is to serve as “an education-watchdog-outreach shop” for Eastern Ohio, said Auch, 36. “We want to be that clearinghouse for drilling data.”
The educational component especially is needed as the Utica shale development spreads in Ohio, he said.
Auch’s group is not against all drilling, but it does have “serious ecological concerns that we won’t hide” about fracking, he said.
Data — detailed reports, multilayered maps, charts, graphs and fact sheets — form the main weapons the FracTracker Alliance uses to get out its message. It is looking at anything and everything to do with fracking and its affect on Ohioans.
People and institutions need accurate, thorough and timely information to understand drilling and to make appropriate decisions, FracTracker says.
The goal is to disseminate transparent, trustworthy, bias-free and objective scientific data and drilling information on a wide basis from grass-roots organizations, government agencies, the news media and especially academia.
It also offers assessments by its staffers, in an attempt to explain the information to the public, and an array of interactive tools.
FracTracker Alliance looks at such topics as drilling permits, well production data, water sources being tapped for fracking and even drilling violations.
Auch’s group is striving to offer the public “a more holistic assessment” of what’s happening with drilling with what he calls a complete suite of local data.
Data is available for free at www.fractracker.org. The site offers instructions and tutorials for accessing the online data.
Auch also will attempt to answer questions and concerns from the public.
Having FracTracker in Ohio is “a major step forward,” said Paul Feezel, chair of the Carroll Concerned Citizens, a grass-roots group in Carroll County — Ohio’s drilling hot spot.
“We’re very excited about what FracTracker does,” he said. “It looks at what’s happening in a more scientific way ... and it has a more centralist view.”
Local landowners can offer information to the website/database and track what’s happening in their communities, Feezel said.
Last August, the FracTracker Alliance won a $130,000, two-year grant from the Cleveland-based George Gund Foundation to open its Ohio office, in Warren.
Totally blocking drilling in Ohio might be impossible with more than 200 wells already drilled, Auch said. But his group might be able to contribute to what he called “a more environmentally friendly” development route, he said.
That might be the “more realistic way for us to go,” Auch said.
Drilling communities need to look at long-term impacts stretching out 30 years, not just immediate problems, he said.
Auch, who started the FracTracker Alliance in September, has begun developing projects with local grass-roots groups.
He is helping a Portage County group assess drilling’s impact on wetlands. He also is working with a group in Mahoning County to draft a leasing guide for landowners and is dealing with water-withdrawal issues from reservoirs in Guernsey and Noble counties.
In Carroll County, Auch is working with Feezel’s group to add local water-test data from individual residents to its database. That information, expected to be compiled by Saturday, will be part of a growing national database on local water supplies and how drilling might affect them.
The alliance has three staffers at work in Pennsylvania and is funded largely by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation.
There is also a part-time staffer in Ithaca, N.Y.
New York state is considering lifting its 4½-year moratorium against drilling in the Marcellus shale.
Auch, a Connecticut native, has a doctorate in ecological modeling from the University of Vermont and came to FracTracker from the Cleveland Botanical Garden. He is finishing a master’s degree from Virginia Tech University on coal strip-mining reclamation.
People fighting strip mining never had access to the kind of information FracTracker is making available to those looking at fracking, he said, and that makes a big difference.
Auch’s group will call itself successful if local communities use its data. That effort is “quite rewarding ... and that’s what keeps us going,” he said.