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Natural Gas and the Marcellus Shale

Sid Halsor, SERC - On the Cutting Edge Collection

This homework problem introduces students to Marcellus shale natural gas and how an unconventional reservoir rock can become an attractive hydrocarbon target. It is designed to expand students' understanding of hydrocarbon resources by introducing an unconventional natural gas play. Students explore the technological factors that make conventional source rocks attractive reservoir rocks and how this advance impacts both U.S. energy supply and the environment.

Designed as a homework assignment, but could also be done in a lab. Computer access for students is necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
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4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
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4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
Energy decisions are influenced by environmental factors.
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5.6 Environmental factors.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
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C) Resources.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
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D) Technology.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:A) Identifying and investigating issues
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A) Identifying and investigating issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:B) Sorting out the consequences of issues
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B) Sorting out the consequences of issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Easily adaptable assignment for any introductory geology or environmental geology course.
  • It would be interesting to include a comparison of CO2 generated from natural gas per unit of energy produced to the CO2 generated by coal per unit of energy produced. Natural gas has lower emissions than coal, and it would be helpful to point this out in the exercise.
  • Activity is very regionally specific - educator might want to make it less regionally specific.

About the Science

  • Introduces the potential for unconventional natural gas reservoirs to help us meet our energy needs, the economic and technological factors that increase natural gas reserves, and the environmental impacts associated with this type of exploration and development.
  • The activity provides a very good and scientifically accurate introduction from which additional classroom discussions and activities could evolve.
  • Background information is presented along with a series of questions; links and references are used to derive the answers.
  • Comment from scientist: The activity refers to laws and regulations that are specific to the State of Pennsylvania. Educators using this activity in adjacent states that also have Marcellus Shale need to clarify to their students that the rules specified in the activity may or may not apply in their state. In New York there is significant public debate regarding the development of the Marcellus Shale resource as well as the underlying Utica Shale or Trenton Black River Shale. The activity does not acknowledge that this debate is occurring, which is an important social aspect of this issue. Moreover, the activity does not mention exploration in the Utica Shale.
  • Comment from scientist: Chief environmental concerns include: the volume of water used in hydro-fracturing, the disposal of flow-back and production water, forest fragmentation by new pipelines, spills and handling accidents involving frac water, and increased stream turbidity resulting from well pad storm water drainage and degraded roadways. While the article presents valuable data on resource characterization and development, greater emphasis could be placed on these environmental impacts in order to balance the exercise.

About the Pedagogy

  • Requires lots of prior knowledge to understand vocabulary.
  • The strategy of the assignment is to lead students through a learning process in which concepts are introduced and followed by questions that require application of the concepts.
  • Learning goals are assessed by evaluating student responses to 10 integrated questions.
  • Video describing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in student assignment is engaging and informative.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Complete in scope and ready for use.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS3.A2:All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.

HS-ETS1.A1:Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be quantified to the extent possible and stated in such a way that one can tell if a given design meets them.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

HS-C2.4:Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects.

HS-C3.3:Patterns observable at one scale may not be observable or exist at other scales.

HS-C4.1:Systems can be designed to do specific tasks.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P1.4:ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem

HS-P1.8:Define a design problem that involves the development of a process or system with interacting components and criteria and constraints that may include social, technical, and/or environmental considerations. 

HS-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

HS-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P7.2:Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.

HS-P8.1:Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

HS-P8.4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of and/or synthesize multiple claims, methods, and/or designs that appear in scientific and technical texts or media reports, verifying the data when possible.

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