Activist works with MIT on tools to educate residents on drilling

A New Castle activist has worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create web-based tools to help residents dealing with lease negotiations, contamination concerns and other aspects of oil and gas development.

MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media said in a news release that it consulted with Tara Meixsell in launching extrAct, a group of tools designed to help educate residents about the industry and take advantage of drilling opportunities while also taking action to try to reduce its impacts.

One of the sites is a Landman Report Card, http://www.landman reportcard.com, which lets users rate those who represent energy companies in negotiating agreements with mineral and land owners. Another, WellWatch, at scrapper.media.mit.edu/wiki/WellWatch, converts state information on individual wells into a more easily searchable database and also lets people document concerns about health and other impacts they believe to be caused by well sites.

A third, the News Positioning System, www. newspositioning.com/, aggregates and maps news stories on oil and gas issues by location.

Meixsell has been involved with local citizens groups dealing with such issues, and last year detailed the health concerns of residents living in drilling country in a self-published book, “Collateral Damage.”

She also was involved in the creation of two documentaries about drilling issues, “Split Estate” and “Gasland,” and she appeared in the latter.

She said the MIT sites help address the difficulty of sharing experiences from state to state, and even within different parts of Colorado, as drilling comes to new locations.

“Everyone’s trying to do a lot of learning really fast. What this project is trying to do …  it’s trying to educate and share valuable information that otherwise people can often learn very painfully on their own.

“It’s not about trying to slam the industry. It’s about looking for solutions when things go wrong.”

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said that land representatives for area gas companies “strive for long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships with their landowners. MIT’s press release uses war metaphors to describe companies as ‘targeting’ people. It’s an unfair, undignified way to characterize the intent of our employees and some might wonder if such language is suitable for the letterhead of an esteemed institution like MIT.

“Having said that, the natural gas business is an intricate one, and any tools that help … western Colorado landowners become better informed and more involved in establishing mutually beneficial lease terms is certainly welcome research, and we applaud MIT.”

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