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 public 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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
No comprehensive information source on these groups existed at the time of the study beyond partial lists, which in many cases were also outdated or no longer supported. For example, author correspondence with the EPA in September 2011 confirmed their directory is not actively managed internally and relies on self-reporting of monitoring groups.
In order to protect the privacy of participating groups, only a subset of civil society organizations are mentioned by name herein. Privacy preferences were determined during the survey process.
For example, the ALLARM protocol (2012) guide volunteers to note “very high concentrations of the indicator and signature chemicals in flowback water [TDS average of 10,000 mg/L] in comparison to water quality criteria in PA [TDS averages of 500 mg/L].”
Numerous additional monitoring groups have formed only in the last 12 months and are currently beginning field collections. Many of these emerging groups, such the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter Water Sentinels program, are located in New York State where, at the time of this paper, a moratorium remains in place against hydraulic fracturing. The newest groups were not included in the survey, but will be the subject of follow-up research.
ALLARM (2012) “Marcellus Shale gas extraction: a study design and protocol for volunteer monitoring.” Carlisle PA. http://blogs.dickinson.edu/marcellusmonitoring. Accessed 7 July 2013
Anderson DP, Cobb J, Korpela E, Lebofsky M, Werthimer D (2002) SETI@home: an experiment in public-resource computing. Commun ACM 45(11):56–61
Brasier K, Lee B, Stedman R, Weigle J (2011) Local champions speak out: Pennsylvania's Community Watershed Organizations. In: Morton LW, Brown S (eds) The citizen effect: pathways for getting to better water quality. Springer, New York, pp 190–206. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-7282-8_11
Brown P (2007) Toxic exposures: contested illnesses and the environmental health movement. Columbia University, New York
Castree N (2010) Neoliberalism and the biophysical environment: a synthesis and evaluation of the research. Environ Soc Adv Res 1(1):5–45
Cohn JP (2008) Citizen science: can volunteers do real research? Bioscience 58(3):192–197
Conemaugh Valley Conservancy (2011) Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team 2011 Annual Report. http://www.conemaughvalleyconservancy.org/conservation/kcst.html. Accessed 7 July 2013
EPA (2013) “Monitoring and Assessing Water Quality - Volunteer Monitoring.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/. Accessed 7 July 2013
Finewood MH, Stroup LJ (2012) Fracking and the neoliberalization of the hydro-social cycle in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. J Contemp Water Res Educ 147(1):72–79
Floress K, Prokopy LS, Allred SB (2011) It's who you know: social capital, social networks, and watershed groups. Soc Nat Resour 24(9):871–886
Frickel S, Vincent MB (2007) Hurricane Katrina, contamination, and the unintended organization of ignorance. Technol Soc 29(2):181–188
Frickel S, Gibbon S, Howard J, Kempner J, Ottinger G, Hess D (2010) Undone science: charting social movement and civil society challenges to research agenda setting. Sci Technol Hum Values 35(4):444–473
Hess DJ (2009) The potentials and limitations of civil society research: getting undone science done. Sociol Inq 79(3):306–327
Kelso M (2012) “How Many MS Permits Are There in PA?” Newsletter. FracTracker Alliance. Pittsburgh, PA. http://www.fractracker.org/2012/02/how-many-ms-permits-are-there-in-pa/. Accessed 7 July 2013
Kleinman DL, Vallas SP (2001) Science, capitalism, and the rise of the ‘knowledge worker’: the changing structure of knowledge production in the United States. Theory Soc 30:451–492
Lave R (2012) Neoliberalism and the production of environmental knowledge. Environ Soc Adv Res 3(1):19–38
Lee V (1994) “Volunteer monitoring: a brief history.” In: The Volunteer Monitor. United States Environmental Protection Agency, vol. 6(1):14
LWA (2012) “Marcellus Shale Monitoring Program Launched”. Currents Newsletter: Winter edition. Loyalhanna Watershed Association. http://www.loyalhannawatershed.org/. Accessed 7 July 2013
Nature Abounds (2013) “Senior Environmental Corps.” http://www.natureabounds.org/SEC.html. Accessed 7 July 2013
Nerbomme J, Nelson K (2004) Volunteer macroinvertebrate monitoring in the United States: resource mobilization and comparative state structures. Soc Nat Resour 17(9):817–839
O'Rourke D, Macey GP (2003) Community environmental policing: assessing new strategies of public participation in environmental regulation. J Policy Anal Manag 22(3):383–414
Ottinger G (2009) Buckets of resistance: standards and the effectiveness of citizen science. Science, Technology & Human Values 35(2):244–270. doi:10.1177/0162243909337121, http://sth.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/0162243909337121
Overdevest C, Mayer B (2008) Harnessing the power of information through community monitoring: insights from social science. Texas Law Rev 86(7):1493–1526
PA DEP (2013) Citizen's Volunteer Monitoring Program. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Conservation and Restoration. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/citizen%27s_volunteer_monitoring_program/10596. Accessed 7 July 2013
PALMS (2010) “What's Wet Summer 2010.” Official Newsletter of the Pennsylvania Lake Management Society. Summer edition. http://www.palakes.org/resources/publications. Accessed 7 July 2013
Pennsylvania Environmental Digest (2011) “Governor's Budget Tuesday, How Will It Compare To Last 8 Years?” Press Release. March 6. http://www.paenvironmentdigest.com/newsletter/default.asp?NewsletterArticleID=18286. Accessed 7 July 2013
Pfeffer MJ, Wagenet LP (2007) Volunteer environmental monitoring, knowledge creation and citizen–scientist interaction. In: Pretty J, Ball A et al (eds) The SAGE handbook of environment and society. Sage, London, pp 235–250
Savan B, Morgan AJ, Gore C (2003) Volunteer environmental monitoring and the role of the universities: the case of Citizens' Environment Watch. Environ Manag 31(5):561–568. doi:10.1007/s00267-002-2897-y
Soeder DJ, Kappel WM (2009) Water resources and natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale. [Reston, Va.]: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS113096. Accessed 7 July 2013
SRBC (2009) “SRBC READY TO START UP REAL-TIME WATER QUALITY MONITORING NETWORK FOR SMALL STREAMS IN EARLY 2010.” Press Release, December 10. http://www.srbc.net/pubinfo/press/docs/WaterQualityRemoteMonitoringProjectFunding_Dec09.PDF. Accessed 7 July 2013
Stedman R, Lee B, Brasier K, Weigle JL, Higdon F (2009) Cleaning up water? or building rural community? Community Watershed Organizations in Pennsylvania. Rural Sociol 74(2):178–200
Trout Unlimited (2013) “Marcellus Shale Project.” http://www.tu.org/tu-projects/eastern-shale-gas-development. Accessed 7 July 2013
Wilson D (2002) “Community Based Water Monitoring and Beyond a Case Study: Pennsylvania.” Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wef/wefproc/2002/00002002/00000002/art00063. Accessed 7 July 2013
About this article
Cite this article
Jalbert, K., Kinchy, A.J. & Perry, S.L. Civil society research and Marcellus Shale natural gas development: results of a survey of volunteer water monitoring organizations. J Environ Stud Sci 4, 78–86 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-013-0155-7