Colorado State student updates oil spill information on Twitter

Danny Bishop

Clarification: This story has been corrected for accuracy. Ogle’s algorithm shows the frequency of oil, gas, hydraulic fracturing fluid and other chemicals, not only oil spills. The Collegian regrets its error.

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A Colorado State University student developed an algorithm which brings to light the frequency of oil, gas and hydraulic fracturing fluid spills in Colorado.

Scott Ogle, a senior journalism student, developed a program that automatically tweets any time there is a spill in Colorado. He said around two to six oil spills happen every day.

Spill Report pulls data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission website, which requires every drilling company to report spills, and tweets out the information, according to Ogle.

Ogle said every spill has to be reported, no matter what size, and after developing this program he realized how prevalent spills are.

“Most people don’t know that spills are happening two to six times every single day,” Ogle said. “Spills run the range of small to big, but even the small ones add up. There are tens of thousands of sites in Colorado, so two to six spills every single day adds up. That’s huge over the years.”

Every tweet contains the date of the spill, the county it happened in and what company the oil site belongs to. Each tweet also includes a link to the COGCC report for more information.

Corrie Sahling, a senior journalism major in Ogle’s Capstone class, said the Twitter account was eye opening.

“It is definitely something people need to know about,” Sahling said. “He is holding people accountable for things that normally would go unreported.”

Michael Humphrey, Ogle’s instructor for his independent study, said this sort of data journalism is important to give people otherwise buried information.

“This data exists in hidden spaces and people don’t know this information is available,” Humphrey said. “Machines can look for problems that humans do not have time to look for. A machine does not have a problem plowing through a lot of info, for a human it takes hours.”

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Humphrey said digital journalism is the future and Ogle does a great job of utilizing digital tools made available to journalists.

Daniela Castillo, Ogle’s instructor for his Capstone class, also pointed out the importance of data journalism and said the algorithm he developed for this project is useful in a number of applications.

“His framework is very applicable in many other fields and his model simple and solid,” Castillo said. “This could be part of a bigger community awareness system.”

Collegian City Beat Reporter Danny Bishop can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @DannyDBishop.