Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale: Boon or bust?

Author: Galeet Cohen


Central High School

Year: 2011

Seminar: The Marcellus Shale and Pennsylvania: Energy, Money, Trout

Grade Level: 12

Keywords: Ecology, energy, Gasland, geology, marcellus shale, natural gas, Sunoco refinery, water quality

School Subject(s): Environmental Science, Science

Until a century ago, natural gas was considered a waste product in oil fields and flared or vented off. If you’ve ever travelled past the Sunoco refinery near the Philadelphia airport at night and seen the constant blue flame atop the distillation unit you know that this is still true in some places and times. But the energy landscape is changing and natural gas is enjoying elevated standing in the world energy portfolio.

This unit is designed as part of a non-renewable energy unit, following oil and coal, in a 12th grade environmental science elective course. This unit is particularly appealing to students because of its relevance to their lives. The shale gas industry is in the news nearly every day and references to the fracking controversy have made their way into popular culture. Students living in watersheds impacted by fracking will be particularly interested since this issue is local enough to impact them directly and sized large enough to matter but small enough to impact. In this unit students will explore the science, politics, and ethics surrounding the Marcellus Shale. By investigating different perspectives on exploiting our local natural gas resources students will review and reinforce existing understandings relating to geology, ecology, water quality and also engage in real decision-making requiring analysis of primary and secondary information sources and determination of priorities, examination of bias, and the process of compromise around trade offs.

This unit begins with an audit of students’ own natural gas usage through their household’s utility bill. Throughout the body of the unit, students will be able to compare methods, benefits and costs of various sources and extraction methods through a combination of lecture, research, and viewing the film Gasland. The unit ends with a discussion of bias in information sources and writing a newspaper article (for the school newspaper) with either a balanced perspective or in editorial form.

Download Unit: 11.03.01.pdf

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