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Resources for Teaching and Learning About the Marcellus Shale and the Broader Energy System

November 2, 2012

Search for “fracking,” “Hydrofracking,” “hydraulic fracturing” or “Marcellus Shale” and you’ll get plenty of hits, and the nature, quality and bias of what you find will range as widely as you can imagine. At the Paleontological Research Institution, we’ve been working to develop quality resources that do not advocate for or against drilling, but rather present evidence-based information in a clear way. This post is both a catalog of our current resources on the Marcellus. 

The Museum of the Earth provides scientific information about unconventional drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

In our outreach related to the Marcellus Shale, the Museum of the Earth will not take a position supporting or opposing drilling in the Marcellus Shale. A fundamental goal of our work is to provide evidence-based information and to build understanding of the science related to the Shale, the extraction techniques employed in gas recovery from the Shale, and associated environmental impacts. Project partners also help nurture understandings of the economic and cultural impacts of decisions related to Marcellus Shale development. We strive to do this work with as little bias as possible.

The Museum of the Earth’s Marcellus Shale Website

Our website has links to many of the materials described here. See it at: The site also links to resources from other institutions we have worked with.

The Marcellus Papers (pdf)

The Marcellus Papers are a series of short papers exploring Earth system science related to the Marcellus Shale. Click the link above for paragraph length descriptions of each paper. Below are direct links with very short descriptions. The Marcellus Papers are in pdf format and range from 4 to 16 pages in length. There are currently 10 papers in the series.

They are written at a relatively high reading level, though we are creating versions that target an early high school reading level. Reading guides to facilitate their use in classrooms are also under development. Check back soon for information on these resources.

An introduction to the geological characteristics and considerations of the Marcellus Shale, as well as its cultural history and major topics of interest. (issued May 2011; 4 pages)

A discussion of the geological characteristics associated with the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011; 4 pages)

A discussion of the possibility of induced seismicity resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011; 5 pages)

A discussion of the naturally occurring radioactive material resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Aug 2011; 8 pages)

A discussion of natural fractures, or joints, present in the Marcellus Shale and the hydraulic fractures that are induced during unconventional gas drilling to extract natural gas. (issued Aug 2011; 12 pages)

A discussion of the technologies associated with unconventional natural gas drilling and how it compares to more familiar conventional drilling techniques. (issued Jan 2012; 9 pages)

A discussion of the water input required to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale well- the quantity, additives, and risks. (issued Nov 2011; 16 pages)

A discussion of the waste fluids from Marcellus drilling: what they are and where they will go. (issued Nov 2011; 12 pages)

A discussion of the non-water related environmental issues associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Jan2012; 11 pages)

A discussion of the sources and uses of energy, how they have changed over time and how Marcellus Shale is contextualized within the larger energy system. (issued Nov 2011; 12 pages)

What do you need to understand to teach about the Marcellus Shale?

This is a pair of blog posts proposing skills and understandings that are helpful for teaching about the Marcellus Shale and the broader energy system. A few updates were recently made to the content. The two posts have also been formatting into a document for reading offline. That document can be downloaded here, and the two blog posts with full titles are linked below.

 The Marcellus Shale in Google Earth (kmz)

Click above to download a Google Earth file that illustrates a number of features about the Marcellus Shale. The file includes an overlay showing the extent of the Marcellus and Utica Shales, and another that highlights where the Marcellus Shale is exposed at the surface in New York State. Also included are placemarks showing photographs of site where the Marcellus Shale is exposed in Lancaster and Lafayette, NY, and information related to traditional natural gas drilling in Chautauqua County, NY. Also included is a placemark with the Prezi described and linked below embedded within it.

There’s no such thing as a free megawatt: the Marcellus Shale as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Prezi)

Click the above to view an online presentation that provides a very quick overview of the Marcellus Shale, the technologies being used for extracting natural gas from it in Pennsylvania (and other state within the Marcellus region) and which will likely be used in New York State, if the moratorium on slickwater horizontal high-volume hydraulic fracturing is lifted. The presentation is in the form of a Prezi, a format that is easier to explore than to explain (so just click on the header for this section or here to begin).  The Prezi is typically used for an hour long talk — and has material for a second hour long talk (originally presented at the National Science Teachers’ Association annual conference in 2011). The Prezi is also embedded within the above described Google Earth file.

The Scale of the Marcellus Shale (Prezi)

Prezi allows zooming in and out of illustrations — Sarah Miller took advantage of this to create an illustration of the Marcellus Shale to scale. In addition to showing the layers of rock below Deposit, New York with a house, drilling rig and the well bore to scale, images of the Empire State Building are used to illustrate the depth and tallest building in New York’s Southern Tier (Binghamton’s Government Plaza Building) is shown to scale as well.

Resources for Teaching with the Energy Information Administration Website

This very large Excel Spreadsheet includes all operating US power plants as of 2008. More recent data can be found at the Energy Information Administration’s website (but not in a single file). The video below offers a brief introduction to the spreadsheet. We’d like educator input offering their ideas on what to include in teaching activities using this information. Please drop Don Duggan-Haas a note with your ideas.

The EIA site also includes an interactive map of all currently operating power plants. See the map for New York State here. The video below introduces the website, using Pennsylvania as an example. Before exploring your home state, take your best guess at these questions:

  • What are the two biggest sources of energy for electricity generated in my state?
  • What are the two biggest sources of energy consumed in my state? In addition to electricity, this includes energy for transportation, residential and commercial heating, and industry.
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