Archive for the 'Unconventional Fossil Fuels' Category

National Geographic Story on Fracking for Shale Oil

In March 2013, National Geographic devoted its cover story to the topic of fracking for shale oil. The New Oil Landscape lays out the pros and cons of fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play.  The editor writes, “on one side of the equation are abundant fossil fuels, less dependence on foreign sources, and the kind of economic prosperity that comes with jobs. On the other side is the possibility of contaminated groundwater, environmental degradation, and what [the author] calls a loss of prairie values—“silence, solitude, serenity.”

Accompanying the story is a photo gallery, related stories and resources like this two-minute  video animation that describes the process of hydraulic fracturing by zooming in on a well that is extracting shale oil from the Bakken Shale play in North Dakota.

On a related note, check out this image of the Earth at night that reveals “nighttime evidence of an oil boom” in this region of North Dakota.

Problem-Based Learning – Fracking and the Marcellus Shale

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!

Methane Hydrate Resources from NETL and USGS

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.

image014The 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.

(Image: USGS)

Methane Hydrate Resources

66338541_fireiceMethane 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?

ChokePoint US: Energy Used in the Water Cycle

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.


USGS Releases Assessment of Eastern Basins for Oil and Gas Content

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:



NC DENR Revises Scope of N.C. Shale Gas Study Based on Public Comment

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.

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