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Hydrofracking Fluids & the Forest

Unit Plan: Hydrofracking - with Chloride DataLesson: 5 Time: One class period Setting: Classroom
9-12Data Exploration & NOS
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Students will know how the hydrofracking fluid affected the health of the trees and soil in the forest, and will be able to explain the drawbacks of flowback water with respect to ecosystem health. 


    1. Students view data on tree health from the fracking experiment. 
    2. Students return to data from Lesson 1, and synthesize this with their own experiences and data. 
    3. Students discuss the implications of flowback water on ecosystem health. 


    Copies of student worksheet

    1. Engage: Remind students of the interesting online visual is the number of gas wells that have been drilled in PA since 2007:   Ask students how the number of wells may influence water quality.  Scientists have found that in places like the Marcellus shale (below), 80% of the wells are within 300m of a stream watershed. 
    2. Explore: Students are provided with data on trees that were damaged in the forest where the flowback fluid was applied.  Students should notice that although the contaminants in the soil decreased, the number of damaged trees increased (you may need to project the other graphs to remind students of the trends). Chloride, iron, and sodium decreased between 2008 and 2009, while pH increased.  Remind students that trees can’t just “regrow” in a year, and thus it might take a very long time for the forest to recover from the contamination. 
    3. Explore: Students view data on chloride and connect this information with the health of the forest. 
    4. Explain: Then, students view two graphs of methane contamination in groundwater to explore students’ understanding of scatterplots vs bar graphs with error bars.  Students are asked to evaluate the strengths and limitations of each type of graph. Students should consider how different graphs help scientists visualize data – scatterplots help you see all of these data, while bar graphs show the averages.  If you add error bars to the bar graphs, you will be able to see the range of the samples as well as the averages. 
    5. Extend: Students could write a letter to the editor summarizing the information they have learned about the ecological impacts of hydrofracking. 
    1. Evaluate:  Students should complete the rest of the lab sheet. Pay attention to students’ ability to state a claim, provide adequate evidence, and connect the evidence and claim through reasoning.   
    2. A final assignment is provided to help students synthesize their understanding of hydrofracking and critique the data presented in a variety of articles.  Students choose one of five articles, read and critique it, and discuss it in class.  

    Lesson Files

    Student Worksheet
    Worksheet Answer Key
    Final Assignment
    Article 1 - Doyle
    Article 2 - Economist
    Article 3 - Lustgarden
    Article 4 - Worthington
    Article 5 - Urbina

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    5A Diversity of Life, 8C Energy Sources and Use, 9D Uncertainty

    NYS Standards

    MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science, ELA 4 - Language for communication and social interaction with a wide variety of people
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Construction explanations and designing solutions, Engaging in argument from evidence

    The original data for this lesson can be found in the USGS paper online