The Earth System Science (ESS) module Fracking – Marcellus Shale from the Earth System Science Education Alliance (ESSEA) is a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) activity designed to introduce your students to a current environmental issue and explore it using ESS’s Earth System Science Analysis (ESSA). The ESSA approach asks students to examine how the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere 1) are impacted by the issue; 2) affect the issue; and 3) affect each other.
The module contains an extensive list of high quality resources pertaining to fracking along with a compilation of suggested activities appropriate for a range of learners, from beginners to advanced.
To learn more about using ESS modules in the K-12 classroom, click here.
If you have used this resource with your students, please leave a comment!
The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has an information portal for the National Methane Hydrate R&D Program. There is a link to 24 page primer titled, Energy Resource Potential for Methane Hydrate (pdf) and a description of all active and completed research projects.
The USGS’s Woods Hole Science Center also has an extensive page devoted to gas hydrates. Here you can learn about The U.S. Geological Survey Gas Hydrates Project, learn about climate-hydrate interactions, and find links to recent scientific publications and multi-media coverage.
Methane hydrates have been in the news lately after Japan announced in March that it had extracted natural gas from deep in the ocean floor! The source of the natural gas was methane hydrates, or methane molecules trapped in ice crystals. In reading a recent National Geographic article, I learned that “methane hydrates buried beneath the seafloor on continental shelves and under the Arctic permafrost are likely the world’s largest store of carbon-based fuel. The figure often cited, 700,000 trillion cubic feet of methane trapped in hydrates, is a staggering sum that would exceed the energy content of all oil, coal, and other natural gas reserves known on Earth.” Wow.
Below are links to resources about methane hydrates:
National Geographic: Pictures: Unlocking Icy Methane Hydrates, a Vast Energy Store, an excellent collection of photos with accompanying narrative
NASA: Methane: A Scientific Journey from Obscurity to Climate Super-Stardom
Department of Energy: Methane Hydrates
The Green Grok: Methane Hydrates: The Next Natural Gas Boom?
I recently learned about a project from Circle of Blue called ChokePoint: US, a four-month reporting project where journalists set out to better understand what is occurring in the places where rising energy demand collides with diminishing supplies of fresh water. Check out the website for featured stories, multimedia and infographics about hydropower, coal, oil, tar sands, fracking, and renewables.
Check out the interactive infographic titled: Energy Used in the Water Cycle that details the amount of electricity that is needed to transport, distribute and treat the water we use in our homes and businesses as well as the industrial and agricultural sectors. While electricity plays a role in many steps of this water cycle, most electricity use occurs with the end users – customers who heat water to bathe, cook, etc.
For those of you who take your students on tours of water treatment plants or waste water treatment plants, consider asking the plant operators to discuss the plant’s use of electricity to pump, move and treat water.
On June 5, 2012, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released a two page fact sheet (pdf) titled Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the East Coast Mesozoic Basins of the Piedmont, Blue Ridge Thrust Belt, Atlantic Coastal Plain, and New England Provinces, 2011. The assessment estimates the mean amount of technically recoverable, undiscovered natural gas resources in NC’s Deep River Basina to be 1,660 billion cubic feet of gas and 83 million barrels of natural gas liquids. The assessment concludes that “of the five basins that were quantitatively assessed, the Deep River, Taylorsville, and South Newark basins appear to possess the potential to produce the most hydrocarbons.”
According to Dr. Kenneth Taylor, chief of the N.C. Geological Survey, in today’s press release from the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR), the USGS mean estimate of 1.66 trillion cubic feet for natural gas could meet the state’s natural gas demand for 5.6 years, based on the 2010 average daily natural gas consumption volume in North Carolina of 811 million cubic feet per day.
For more information visit: http://energy.usgs.gov
Today, officials from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) released changes made to the outline for a study of the potential environmental and economic impacts of shale gas exploration and development in North Carolina based on public comments received in the fall of 2011.
Changes made included:
• Adding a section specifically dealing with recommendations to the study, to address comments received that the study should add a consideration of whether or not hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should be permitted under state law. This section will also include recommendations for baseline data collection and any further research necessary;
• Adding subsections on potential public health impacts in various sections of the study;
• Adding a section on the potential impacts to the existing local economy (for instance, agriculture and tourism) based on public comments;
• Expanding the section on stormwater management to include potential impacts of oil and gas production to surface waters;
• Expanding the air quality section to examine flaring and greenhouse gas emissions; and
• Adding a section on potential impacts to North Carolina energy consumers.
The NCDENR shale gas webpage provides an overview of shale gas; describes current regulations associated with shale gas exploration; explains how the department will study the issue (and provide study results when complete); and guides the public in how to receive updates on the study, as well as how to provide comment on the issue.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) states on its fossil energy website that “an objective look at [alternatives to petroleum] points to the Nation’s untapped oil shale as a strategically located, long-term source of reliable, affordable, and secure oil.” A task force to develop a program and make recommendations to advance the commercialization of the United States’ strategic unconventional fuel resources, including oil shale was established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Strategic Unconventional Fuels Task Force website contains links to educational posters and fact sheets titled Oil Shale Resources, Oil Shale Economics, Oil Shale and the Environment and Oil Shale Water Resources prepared by the Department of Energy’s Office of Petroleum Reserves.
According to the USGS, the Eocene Green River Formation of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming contains the largest oil shale deposits in the world and the DOE estimates that U.S. oil shale resources amount to more than 2 trillion barrels. This energy source is at the bottom of the Resource Triangle because historically it has been cost prohibitive to develop this resource and the associated technology given the lower cost of petroleum.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Oil Shale and Tar Sands resources on lands administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Their online center for public information contains an About Oil Shale page with general information as well as photos.
I was recently exposed to the “Resource Triangle” during a talk about the future of fossil fuels and thought this visual had educational value in that it conveys the point that unconventional fossil fuels we are hearing more about these days have always been there, but now, thanks to advances in technology and rising energy costs some, like shale gas, are becoming economically viable to extract.
Masters and Gray published the concept of the resource triangle in the late 1970s to show that “oil and gas resources are distributed log normally in nature” just like any other natural resource. Stephen Holditch, Professor of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A & M University, is credited with keeping this concept alive in today’s publications about oil and gas reserves. For those of you wanting to read more about these resources and get a sense of their abundance and distribution, you may be interested in the a 2009 article titled How technology transfer will expand the development of unconventional gas, worldwide by Holditch and Ayers. A corresponding presentation (pdf) on this topic is also available and contains a slide of the resource triangle as well as other figures that can be useful in addressing this topic with your students.
The International Association for Drilling Contractors represents the worldwide oil and gas industry. A 2004 article in their magazine, Drilling Contractor, cites the resource triangle and generally summarizes the various unconventional energy sources, making this a reading suitable for most students.
Fred Beyer is a retired educator and science curriculum specialist as well as author who knows NC geology well. He recently posted this email to NC’s earth science teacher listserv and I asked for his permission to re-post it here:
North Carolina has natural gas deposits in the Sanford Triassic Basin.
During coming months there will be a number of articles in the news
concerning efforts to explore and tap this natural resource. Your students will have questions and you need to have answers. The following web sites have some of the information you will need to develop those answers.
This site presents the process of drilling and fracking a shale deposit to recover the natural gas trapped in the layers.
Drlling Down Series, The New York Times
This current news series features a number of articles concerning various concerns related to the natural gas exploration process.
As this issue develops in North Carolina you and your students will be exposed to many points of view. Your task will be to present the available information and help students form their own conclusions. This issue will present a unique opportunity to help students:
1. Develop their skills in interpreting information.
2. Separating opinions from facts.
3. Applying scientific reasoning to the information to develop
a conclusion or set of conclusions consistent with the data.
In fact, this may also present an opportunity to educate your students’ parents about how scientific decisions are made.
I suggest you consider begin a collection of articles and other information from which can build an investigatory experience for your students.
Duke University’s report, Considering Shale Gas Extraction in North Carolina: Lessons from Other States, was released today. According to the press release, this report (pdf) “offers several health and environmental measures for North Carolina lawmakers to consider as they debate legalizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “
The researchers cite seven measures that policymakers should consider “to help avoid and mitigate any possible negative effects.
- Securing baseline data on groundwater prior to shale gas production and at each stage of the drilling process;
- Funding for regulatory programs and an agency to carry them out;
- Planning for withdrawals from area water supplies related to the production;
- Minimizing the risks of spills and contamination caused by equipment failure and human error by implementing safety requirements;
- Thinking through options for the disposal and treatment of wastewater resulting from the hydraulic fracturing process;
- Assessing the impacts on air quality and assure attainment of federal ground-level ozone standards; and
- Requiring some degree of disclosure regarding the chemicals used in fracturing fluid.”