by Stephen Metts
During the Fall 2016 semester session of Milano’s Practicum Option, one project group worked with adjunct faculty member Stephen Metts to develop an interactive map for locating community opposition to fracking infrastructure taking hold across the Northeast Region of the United States. Immediately proximate to a massive shale gas play known as the Marcellus Shale, pipelines, gas-fired power plants, compressor stations and metering stations are cropping up all over Northeastern states, notably New York State. While the fossil fuel industry touts narrow economic arguments to legitimize the fracked gas boom, local communities fall into crisis: local environments are impacted; property values plummet, and air and water quality is severely diminished. In effect, once-vibrant communities are transformed into “Sacrifice Zones.”
The Northeast Intervenors Mapping Project seeks to literally map out not only the locations where crisis is likely to result from fracked gas infrastructure proposals, but illuminate pockets of activism and community cohesion. This provides critical information to community-driven opposition battles. Through an unique aspect of The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process, public participation can extend beyond merely commenting into actual legal standing known as Intervention. The experience of intervention is rather cumbersome and confusing for the general public, but once accomplished, it results in relatively transparent public participation; and importantly, public data. This participatory model is not necessarily the norm – the recent high-profile, public relations and permitting disaster of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) case in point.
FERC’s intervention process, however, does not translate into unbiased deliberation. Often referred to as a “Rubber-Stamp Machine,” FERC has approved 119 natural gas interstate transmission pipelines from 2009 through July 2015, with another 43 pending final approval as recently as 2015. These are certainly daunting numbers for local opposition to fracked gas infrastructure threatening to overwhelm their communities and environments.
In order to support local communities caught in the crosshairs of fracked gas projects,The Northeast Intervenors Mapping Project first scraped and cleaned public data from the FERC record, know as a FERC Docket – a digest of all documents, proceedings, certificates and findings for a particular project. Once the data was organized per project, the team ensured that each intervenor was located geographically – a process known as geocoding. This geographic data was then further coded so that each intervenor was coded as an individual, law firm, conservation organization, etc. The resulting features data was then overlayed to respective pipeline projects, culminating in a map that shows the proximity relationships between local community opposition and exact location of proposed infrastructure projects.
The core project team consisted of Alice Franchi and Jeeho Bae, recently graduated SGPIA students. Further, Jakob Winkler, a current Parsons School of Design Strategies student developed a tailored basemap for the project within MapBox. Finally Jacqueline J. Mitchell, graduate of The New School Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management, served as project consultant for map coding and interactivity in partnership with Alice and Jeeho. As project director and Practicum Option liaison, Stephen Metts oversaw all project stages through to final The Northeast Intervenors Map.
The five proposed fracked gas pipelines profiled in the map were selected based on their potential for large impacts on New York State as well as the involvement of the partnership organization for this project- Delaware River Network (DRN). The five projects include:
- The PennEast Pipeline (PA, NJ)
- The Eastern System Upgrade (NY)
- The Valley Lateral Project (NY)
- The Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project (NJ, NY, CT, MA)
- The Dominion New Market Project (NY)
The Northeast Intervenors Mapping Project is live with full online access, but is also presented and discussed locally with communities fighting fracked gas infrastructure projects. Seeing multiple pipeline battles from a regional perspective helps individuals and their local communities draw important spatial connections with other opposition groups. Further, the map allows local communities to see their ‘strength in numbers’ literally mapped- a powerful reminder that effective opposition does not happen alone but amongst and through community.
In addition to the efforts of the project team, The Northeast Intervenors Mapping Project was developed through a new mapping platform partnership between The New School and CARTO that enables online interactive mapping as seen in the project. Individual accounts on the CARTO platform are available to New School students for both individual and group projects. For further information regarding this project as well as getting involved with the CARTO platform at The New School, please reach out to directly to the The New School CARTO account: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Metts, part-time faculty at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, is involved with numerous advocacy and mapping interventions supporting opposition to fracking infrastructure in New York State.