What Are the Challenges of Fracking Natural Shale Gas Reserves?

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This video was excerpted from After the Frack by Mary Fecteau.

To think critically and scientifically, it is good practice to look at how the wants or needs of people balance against economic or environmental costs. In the science of sustainability we must always look at how the practices of today might impact people and Earth’s systems in the future. There are tradeoffs and risks that must be considered whenever people use Earth’s natural resources.

This video is part of a five-part educational series called Challenges of Non-Renewable Energy.

Pre-viewing Questions

  • What are the important roles of water on Earth?
  • When making decisions, what is a "trade-off"?
  • Give your own definition of ‘"alternatives." What might be an example of a scientist talking about alternatives?

Focus Questions for Viewing

  • According to Dr. Weatherington-Rice, which chemicals might return to the surface when shale gas is extracted during fracking?
  • What has traditionally been done with contaminated fracking fluids?
  • What concerns do people have about current methods of dealing with fracking waste?
  • According to Mr. Kell, how many barrels of contaminated fracking wastewater have been buried in injection wells?

Post-viewing Questions

  • Why are these chemicals, heavy metals, and radioactive isotopes present in shale beds?
  • The capacity of a barrel is around 55 gallons. How many gallons of water do you estimate are contained in the 300 million barrels that have already been buried in Ohio? How does this compare to the capacity of a lake or reservoir near you?
  • From a natural resources perspective, why would people be concerned about the injection of millions of barrels of fracking wastewater into the ground?

Extension Activity

  • Research the effects of salts, heavy metals, and radioactive elements on human organ systems. Why would people be concerned about leakage of injection wells onto the surface or into groundwater reserves?

Links to Learn More

  • The Science of Wasted Resources, David Biello, Scientific American: This article from Scientific American highlights the toxic gases, liquids, and solids that must be managed when hydraulic fracturing takes place.
  • A New Challenge?, Charles Q. Chol, NBC NEWS Science: Read about new claims that fracking injections and gas extractions can be linked to seismic shifts in Earth’s crust.
  • Can Fracking Cause Another Hurricane Sandy?, Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy: See what the Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy have to say about current scientific evidence.

NGSS Correlations


Performance Expectation: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. MS-ESS3-3

Disciplinary Core Idea: Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems

Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and effect; structure and function

Science and Engineering Practices: Asking questions and defining problems