Civil society research and Marcellus Shale natural gas development: Results of a survey of volunteer water monitoring organizations

Kirk Jalbert, Abby J. Kinchy, Simona L. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-86
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Citizen science
  • Marcellus shale
  • Natural gas extraction
  • Neoliberalism
  • Water quality monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science


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