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Skytruth sheds light on Gulf oil spill

By Staff | Jan 14, 2011

(Chronicle photo by Jennifer Wabnitz) John Amos expands Skytruth and opens new offices in the Entler Hotel. Skytruth supplies satellite image technology to grassroots organizations to enhance their efforts to educate the public about environmental concerns.

When the BP oil spill made national headlines in April 2010, one Shepherdstown resident knew he could help.

John Amos, president of Skytruth, supplied media with satellite images of the Gulf of Mexico, showing how the oil was traveling on the ocean current. Government agencies started questioning BP’s estimations of the amount of oil leaking when they looked at the images.

BP suggested 1,000 barrels a day; upon further investigations by non-partisan scientists, the estimations topped off at closer to 42,000 barrels a day, Amos said.

Amos started his company in the Arlington area in 2001.

When he and his family decided it was time to relocate they listed all their criteria near Washington, D.C., and an international airport but with a small- town feeling.

They fondly recalled their visits to Shepherdstown for hiking in Yankauer and going to the Contempary American Theater Festival and the American Conservation Film Festival. It was an easy decision, Amos said, and he and his family have been here for eight years now.

After graduating with his masters from Univeristy of Wyoming, Amos worked as a geologist for a large energy company for 10 years. He developed a strong appreciation for the value of satellite imagery.

“Environmental issues affect huge areas. You need satellite imaging to get the big picture,” Amos said.

Skytruth, a nonprofit company, has expanded its work force, and on Dec. 13 opened a new office in town. Skytruth operates out of the Carriage House at the back of the Entler Hotel.

One of the reasons Skytruth opened an office in Shepherdstown is to develop a relationship with Shepherd University. Dean Colleen Noland of the Math and Science Department and Ed Snyder, professor of environmental studies, have met with the Skytruth staff and are investigating ways to work together.

Skytruth wants to get the word out about environmental issues through satellite images and technology. The pictures enhance the messages.

“Anyone who cares about what’s happening on earth should see it for themselves,” Amos said.

Using satellite imagery can allow organizations to clearly demonstrate the effect of an issue over time. Looking at the same image location over a 10-year period clearly reveals the disappearance of ridges due to mining, Amos said.

“To better understand the potential speed and magnitude of an environmental change, show them then and now images,” Amos said.

The Appalachian Voices, a grassroots organization that tries to preserve the Appalachian History and natural beauty in three states, came to Skytruth and asked if they could provide information about how much of the mountain tops have been removed.

Skytruth requested the mining permits from the state of West Virginia then went out and took the images.

Amos said the information they found and the amount permitted to mine did not match. When Skytruth shared this information with the state, the state did its own investigation and determined that some organizations had not mined as much as they were permitted for and others had mined more.

Matt Wasson, director of programs at Appalachian Voices, credited Skytruth as having played a significant role in his organization’s ability to quantify the removal of mountain tops using credible and sophisticated data.

“What sets Skytruth apart from other global imaging services is John’s real-world application and his understanding of the current issues,” Wasson said. “I am glad to hear Skytruth is expanding. This gives Shepherdstown one more thing to be proud of.”

Satellite imagery can also project into the future.

Due to a change in some Bureau of Land Management policy, a land developer was contemplating putting a huge subdivision right beside the Grand Canyon, Amos said. Protesters had projection imagery done to show what effect this subdivision would have on the area in 10 years time. The images were so helpful that that subdivision was stopped and the bureau’s policy changed again.

Skytruth is growing, and satellite images are becoming more prevalent.

“Knowing that some people are really good at faking stuff, I am scrupulous about sources of images and labeling of images,” Amos said.

Skytruth has a Board of Directors and volunteers who are knowledgeable about the technology and current environmental issues.

“Our business plan from the beginning was to get the barrier to information to be as low as possible,” Amos said.

Energy issues have been a big part of Skytruth’s work such as oil spills, coal mining and drilling for natural gas. Studying the impact of these activities matched Amos’s knowledge base and satellite images.

Amos has turned some organizations down knowing that the images would not be useful for their cause. He has technology that can produce all kinds of details but they may not be suitable. Amos is willing to listen to organizations and wants to help them promote their cause.

For more details, visit www.skytruth.org.