Establishing a Low-Cost, Sustainable Environmental Monitoring Program

Barnesville, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Establishing a Low-Cost, Sustainable Environmental Monitoring Program

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons


The Team

  • Jill Hunkler, Community Lead,
  • Dr. John Stolz, Director, Center of Environmental Research and Education Duquesne University, Scientific Lead :

The Challenge

The original goal was to educate communities about the risks to the area from the rapidly expanding fracking industry, and to also establish a water monitoring program due to threats to Barnesville’s water supply from fracking. The team allowed their goals to shift as events transpired in the area, including a blowout at a fracking well pad that resulted in a brine and gas plume that lasted over twenty days. This event changed their water sampling goal from testing drinking water to testing the creek water near the well pad site. Further, due to the discovery that several fracking waste water injection wells had been permitted within close proximity to Barnesville, they organized and held a public information hearing.


The Methods

The project outcomes were guided by the specific environmental issues related to unconventional oil and gas development in southeastern Ohio. Publish forums were established as the most direct way of addressing the concerns of people living in the area.

Community input was obtained through social media and a local network of people. For water quality assessment, John Stolz did sampling and analysis.

The team met in person on average every few months. They kept in contact on a regular basis through phone calls and email. Time commitments varied depending on what aspect of the project they were working on. Further, the regularly scheduled check-ins with Thriving Earth Exchange were very helpful.


The Results

Some of the outputs that were built and delivered through this project include:

Environmental Community Science Meeting with almost 150 people in attendance and organized by the Barnesville Thriving Earth Exchange Project. Photo Credit- Jill Hunkler, 1 July 2019

Many residents attended the aforementioned events, thereby educated and empowered to take action. Knowledge is power and the team has seen members of local communities take action in the form of contacting local officials, regulatory agencies, legislators, and even the Governor asking for protection from the environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.

Allowing for flexibility in their outcome/goals was a definite benefit to the project. They were able to offer support to impacted communities on crucial issues they were facing and the team received encouraging feedback and gratitude for these efforts.



The connections the community had before the project began, with a large range of individuals including those in the local community, environmental groups, and media, allowed for this project to be more impactful. Dr. Stolz’s expertise and research on fracking waste water, and his ability to share his wisdom it in a way that is understandable to all, made a huge contribution to our success.

If the team were to do this project again, they might find more time to offer additional meetings and educational opportunities.  For those pursuing similar community science projects, the team advises others to know the crucial issues facing the community you will be working with and choose your goals based on the needs of the people.



Barnesville is a small town located in the Southwest portion of Belmont County, Ohio. The landscape is dominated by farmland and back country roads.


The 5,000 people living in the town have few economic opportunities and those with medium to high paying jobs are reliant on the local coal industry. Recent development of unconventional natural gas infrastructure has brought opportunity for some and fear for others.  Many large landowners have benefited from the leases held with the natural gas companies. However, these new-found income sources have many concerned about the local environmental and health impacts.


A number of incidents have highlighted the risks associated with the oil and gas operations in Barnesville. A trucking accident resulted in the spilling of 5,000 gallons of fracking fluid into the Barnesville reservoir, ending in the shutdown of the town’s water main reservoir for months. The reservoirs also suffered from significant water pumping causing a severe depletion of the local drinking water source. Air quality has also arisen as a point of concern with local medical providers noting a rise in respiratory health issues. Another health concern is the growing level of radiation appearing in water, soil and air. The cumulative threats to and from water, air, and radiation have led to significant fear in the community.


John Stolz will work to establish a baseline of water data available from a partner organization. He will compile that water testing information and assist in the creation of an action plan for the community to take part in.  This “Action plan” would institute regular water testing that is deemed relevant to the impacts of natural gas drilling as well as the creation of a database in which to store this information.


In conjunction with water testing, Stolz would assist Jill Hunkler in providing residents of Barnesville with scientifically accurate information about the risks of unconventional natural gas drilling.


Ideally, Stolz can help establish a low-cost, sustainable environmental monitoring program for Barnesville.  


Jill Hunkler will serve as the main contact and will serve as the community lead. She will be supported by a pre-established coalition of local residents (maintained through an active social media presence). Jill has already established a robust network of local leaders and residents in Barnesville that can be brought into future meetings.


Barnesville team presents water quality results at a community meeting

On 1 July 2019, a community meeting set up at Ohio Eastern University by the Barnesville, OH Thriving Earth team to discuss water quality results from area hydraulic fracturing attracted over 50 participants. Professors from both Yale and Duquesne Universities, including Thriving Earth Exchange scientist, Dr. John Stolz, presented results of their research on effects of shale well pads on groundwater in Belmont County.

See Article “Results of water study presented in Belmont County” by Kurt Weinschenker

TV News coverage available here.

May 2019 Notes from the Field: Barnesville, OH

Barnesville, OH Water Sampling – 11 October 2018

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead

JIll Antares Hunkler is a teacher, artist, writer, environmental activist, and grassroots organizer. She educates the public about the threats we face due to the polluting and destructive oil and gas industry. She has helped empower people in her community in Ohio to stand up for their rights for a healthy environment. Together they have been successful in their protective campaigns. Her mission to promote clean energy solutions and a healthy and protected Mother Earth for current and future generations. For further information visit Jill’s website:


Scientific Lead

John Stolz is Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education; Professor, Environmental Microbiology Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences Department of Biological Sciences; Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. John is interested in both fundamental questions in microbial ecology as well as the application of unique microbial species for bioremediation. There are three major areas of interest in his lab:1) the ecophysiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology of dissimilatory metal reducing bacteria, 2) the ecophysiology of phototrophic prokaryotes and 3) the environmental impacts and microbiology of unconventional shale gas extraction. John has a Ph.D. in Biology from Boston University.

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of Thriving Earth Exchange’s new cohorts.  Thriving Earth has partnered with AGU’s GeoPolicy Connect in 2017 to bring community leaders from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania affected by ongoing hydraulic fracturing together with scientists and policymakers. Thriving Earth is working with three local community groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better understand and cope with the effects of hydraulic fracturing.