Citizen scientists, community groups awarded grants to study impacts of oil and gas development

Published: Feb. 1, 2016

Five community-led projects from across Colorado will explore air and water quality and sustainable energy development with support from the latest round of grants from the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The grants aim to improve understanding of the risks and benefits of oil and gas development as identified by community organizations.

This year’s grant recipients, including community groups, centers and school groups, will have continued professional support from – and will work with – AirWaterGas researchers for the duration of their one-year projects.

"We embrace the opportunity to work with citizens and students of all ages and backgrounds in all parts of the state who want to learn more about the impacts of oil and gas development and how to create a sustainable future in their communities," said Michael Hannigan, AirWaterGas co-investigator and CU-Boulder associate professor of mechanical engineering. "We often learn as much from the community members as they do from us."

Many of the projects will incorporate cost-effective, portable air quality monitors that were developed by the AirWaterGas research team at CU-Boulder. The monitors, called U-Pods, allow individuals and groups to carry out preliminary investigations of community air quality with support from AirWaterGas researchers.

After a competitive review process, grants of up to $5,000 were awarded to five school groups and community organizations. Here are descriptions of some of the projects:

  • Trinidad Water Festival The Culebra Range Community Coalition in Trinidad will host the fifth annual Trinidad Community Water Festival this spring. The event involves the entire K-12 student population of Las Animas County (about 2,000 students) at the Trinidad State Junior College. The AirWaterGas Community Small grant will contribute to developing new programs for the water festival and preceding classroom visits to engage students in assessing benefits and tradeoffs of local natural gas development in collaboration with local oil and gas industry partners.
  • Expansion of High Altitude Air Quality Monitoring: Collection and Analysis of Ozone Trends as Related to Elevation and Population Density The Soaring Eagle Ecology Center (SEEC) in Red Feather Lakes and Livermore has received a second year of funding to continue a citizen science project monitoring air quality at various elevations (5,000 feet to over 9,000 feet) and population densities. SEEC will continue to teach elementary school air quality programs, and begin collaborating with science teachers and students at Wellington Middle School to develop air quality inquiry projects and math classes at Preston Middle School to assist SEEC with its ongoing air quality monitoring  and data analysis. Wellington has a history of older oil and gas development/wells and there is interest in seeing what the air quality data on ozone and volatile organic compounds reveal.
  • Well Watch Project The Poudre Learning Center in Greeley received a second round of funding for its Well Watch Project in which participants and K-12 students monitor groundwater samples and learn about the science of groundwater. Through workshops and ongoing sampling, the project aims to help teachers and students understand the importance of groundwater resources, how they are used and replenished and how they can potentially be contaminated. The grantees will continue to work with researchers to develop curricular and teacher training content on the potential impacts of oil and gas development on groundwater quality.
  • WESTern Air Quality: Citizen Science in STEM Programs on Colorado’s Western Slope Students in Grand Junction – at West Middle School, Central High School and participants of the Math Engineering Science Achievement (M.E.S.A) program  – will build upon existing air quality monitoring programs with the assistance of the Air Quality InQuiry (AQIQ) monitoring equipment and curriculum that is offered as part of the AirWaterGas education and outreach team efforts. Students will develop emission-reducing air pollution inventions and participate in the local eco-engineering competition with the support and mentoring of AirWaterGas researchers.
  • Energy Awareness Initiative The North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River is currently under consideration for expanded oil and gas development, and Delta County residents’ attitudes are split about the benefits and tradeoffs of increased development. The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, Colo., will host a series of events to explore and understand the implications and impacts of energy development for diverse audiences in Delta County. The organization will continue to build upon citizen science efforts and mapping resources for community members.

The AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network is a research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The interdisciplinary network involves researchers from nine institutions and aims to provide a logical, science-based framework for evaluating the environmental, economic and social trade-offs of developing oil and natural gas resources and protecting water and air resources. The goal is to provide research results to key stakeholders and share these results with the public.

Funding for the community grants was made possible by the CU-Boulder Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and the grants are administered by the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network and the CU-Boulder Office for Outreach and Engagement.

For more information visit the AirWaterGas website.

Contact:
Mike Hannigan, 303-735-5045
hannigan@colorado.edu
Katya Hafich, 303-492-9113
katya.hafich@colorado.edu
Julie Poppen, CU-Boulder media relations, (O) 303-492-4007, (M) 720-503-4922
julie.poppen@colorado.edu

Air Water Gas Sustainability Research Network
"We embrace the opportunity to work with citizens and students of all ages and backgrounds in all parts of the state who want to learn more about the impacts of oil and gas development and how to create a sustainable future in their communities," said Michael Hannigan, AirWaterGas co-investigator and CU-Boulder associate professor of mechanical engineering.