Public Lab Research note

Using the Oil Testing Kit with Gulf Coast Communities

by mlamadrid , stevie | March 17, 2016 04:10 17 Mar 04:10 | #12853 | #12853

This is an article by Stevie Lewis for Community Science Forum Issue #1 on DYI Oil Testing. Buy a copy in the Public Lab Store.

Over the course of the Homebrew project, several community groups and nonprofits worked on the kit and contributed to tool development, community use cases for the kit and workshop design. As the project progressed, more people began to identify different ways the kit could potentially be used to help address community questions.

Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and the Emerald Coast Surfrider group were both interested in the idea of a DIY oil testing kit from the beginning. Both groups had dealt with the outfall of the 2010 BP oil spill and the complications that arose from their lack of access to low cost oil sampling. In the Homebrew project, GRN helped to compile use cases for the oil kit in Louisiana, identify ways the tool could be more robust and worked with the kit using real field samples from oil collected around the Gulf Coast. The Surfrider group took the kit to the classroom where they were able to teach about the usefulness of low cost spectrometry. They also contributed the idea that the kit could be used to pre-screen samples suspected to be oil before they were sent off for expensive lab tests.

As the project progressed, a few groups started seeing the potential use for the kit in use cases outside of direct oil sample testing. The Groundwork New Orleans Green Team learned about spectrometry and the Oil Testing Kit over the course of a few workshops. They identified the kit’s potential use in examining stormwater runoff, an issue they have been working on around the city for the past year through their community mapping program. In hearing about the project, Voices of St. Tammany, a group dedicated to keeping fracking out of their parish, explored the idea that the kit might be useful in their fight to keep fracking out of their parish. They were interested in taking samples in areas where exploratory drilling might happen, and monitor the site’s samples over time for changes in the way they looked on spectralworkbench. Changes in the water or soil samples could be an indication of new contamination. Identifying this early could be more leverage against the fracking companies in their community. Several other groups such as Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Guardians of the Land and Water and members of the IDIYA makerspace did initial exploration with the Oil Testing Kit. As the project grows and expands, we expect to see more uptake of community groups expanding ideas on what the kit can do, taking on the challenges communities have in DIY oil testing.


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