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Hydrofracking and Ecosystems

Unit Plan: Hydrofracking - with Turbidity DataLesson: 1 Time: 1 class period Setting: Classroom
6-8, 9-12Data Exploration & NOS
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Students will understand the process of hydrofracking and will be able to use a short article to explain the benefits and drawbacks, focusing on turbidity.   


    1. Students will understand the process of hydrofracking and will be able to list the  benefits and drawbacks of the process.   
    2. Students will know that there are differences in methane concentrations between drinking water wells that are in active and in non-active drilling sites. 
    3. Students will evaluate whether they agree with the process of hydrofracking based on the information provided to them. 
    4. Students will interpret a graph of methane concentration in drinking water near hydrofracking wells.
    5. Students will complete an optional reading on turbidity. 


    Copies of student worksheet

    Connection to internet for viewing fracking images

    1. Engage:  Students may not be familiar with the process of hydrofracking.  In order to introduce them to the process, show them images of fracking online (searching for images of hydrofracking is a good place to start).  Another interesting visual is the number of gas wells that have been drilled in PA since 2007.  Unconventional wells are the wells that use the newer technology of horizontal drilling combined with "fracking" the shale and inserting highly pressurized water and chemicals to extract the natural gas. 
    2. Explore: Hand out the student worksheet, “Hydrofracking & Ecosystems” and the “Fracking Fury” article by Janna Palliser.  You could split the students up into smaller groups and have each group read only a part of the article, and then report back to the class, to make it more interactive.    
    3. Explain:  Hydrofracking is a controversial process that allows us to obtain natural gas from shale rock located deep underground for our energy needs.  There is an incredible amount of information available on the Marcellus Papers website, hosted by the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca: .  While there are many, many aspects of hydrofracking to consider, including economic and health concerns, explain to students that in this module we will only be focusing on the ecological concerns. Specifically, this module looks at the potential impact of drilling new wells near streams and how turbidity in these streams might be affected, using a small set of samples. 
    4. Extend: If students are unfamiliar with the term "turbidity" and the way turbidity affects aquatic ecosystems, ask them to read about turbidity on the Great Lakes' Lake Access website:
    5. Evaluate: Students should complete the worksheet, interpreting the graph from the Osborn et al paper that demonstrates the link between methane concentrations and distance to a gas well.  This graph may be difficult for some students to evaluate, since it is a scatterplot using two different kinds of symbols.

    Lesson Files

    Student Worksheet
    Worksheet Answer Key
    Reading - Fracking Fury

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    4B The Earth

    NYS Standards

    MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Asking questions and defining problems

    Osborn, S.G., A. Vengosh, N.L. Warner & R. Jackson.  2011.  Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying well-drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108: 8172-8176.