Through a Homebrew Sprint Fellowship, I have spent the last few months working with Gretchen Gerke, Public Lab’s Data & Advocacy Steward on gathering stories from within the Public Lab community and beyond to develop use case examples for when the Oil Testing Kit could be useful. Many of these stories came from the Gulf Coast region and center around oil contamination of land and water. Landfill runoff, oil spills from transport and extraction, or leaks from machinery and equipment are just a few of the examples given by the people I interviewed.
Scott Eustis, from the Gulf Restoration Network (Louisiana) and also a longtime Public Lab member and organizer identified three specific sites of potential oil contamination that come from very different sources. With some help from Stevie Lewis, I connected with Margie Vicknair, an environmental activist and long-time Gulf Coast resident about the history of the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. It was shocking to learn from her how many pipelines crisscross the state and how some of the older pipelines, built by companies that no longer exist, probably aren’t even correctly mapped.
What was most striking for me was how similar her stories were to the ones related to me by many of the people I spoke with in northwestern Canada where I’ve been researching the impacts of oil and gas industry projects on local communities. Margie’s story about her older brother returning from a hunting trip with stories of animal skeletal remains around an abandoned pit reminded me of the many stories I heard from First Nations people of returning from hunting trips with poisoned fish or moose. Margie’s stories carried a similar urgency as those I heard from northern communities in Alberta and British Columbia. Her plea was for greater accountability. Margie hopes companies will create responsibility reports on oil spills.
Donovan Cameron, a GIS Advisor for Saulteau First Nations in northeastern British Columbia, who oversees environmental and cultural monitoring programs of his traditional territory spoke of the challenges his environmental monitors face when collecting physical data of oil leaks from surveying equipment used by oil and gas companies on their land. An Oil Testing Kit would be a helpful addition to the photographic imagery they are collecting. The purpose for gathering these stories is to provide real-world examples for people interested in using the oil testing kit in the wild. In the last few weeks left of my fellowship, I will use this time to think about the shared stories that exist across regionally different communities, tied together by similar environmental consequences of oil and gas development.