The Civic Informatics of FracTracker Alliance: Working with Communities to Understand the Unconventional Oil and Gas Industry

Kirk Jalbert, Samantha Malone Rubright, Karen Edelstein


Unconventional oil and gas extraction is fueling a wave of resource development often touted as a new era in US energy independence. However, assessing the true costs of extraction is made difficult by the vastness of the industry and lack of regulatory transparency. This paper addresses efforts to fill knowledge gaps taken up by civil society groups, where the resources produced in these efforts are used to make informed critiques of extraction processes and governance. We focus on one civil society organization, called FracTracker Alliance, which works to enhance public understanding by collecting, interpreting, and visualizing oil and gas data in broad partnerships. Drawing on the concepts of civic science, we suggest that the informational practices of civil society research organizations facilitate critical knowledge flows that we term “civic informatics.” We offer three case studies illustrating how different characteristics of civic informatics enable public-minded research as well as build capacity for political mobilizations. Finally, we suggest that empirical studies of civic informatics and its facilitators offer insights for the study of “engaged” Science and Technologies Studies (STS) that seek to generate new models of science at the intersection of praxis and theory.


civic informatics; civic science; oil and gas extraction; government transparency; engaged STS

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Copyright (c) 2017 Kirk Jalbert, Samantha Malone Rubright, Karen Edelstein

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