Risk Analysis of Shale Drilling Mock Trial: Shale we or Shale we not?

byMaria Orton


I am examining different facets of energy production and techniques being used to harvest the natural resources available in the United States Specifically I want to compare and contrast the pros and cons of Shale Drilling In general the public perceives the drilling processes to be negative due to the twisting of facts by the media and also due to the laws currently in place One of the reasons shale drilling is booming is because it produces energy that the United States then does not have to acquire from competing countries Currently 85% of energy being consumed in the United States comes from fossil fuels; between 20% - 25% of that energy comes from natural gas

The US hopes to become energy independent, meaning that it would not need to rely on other countries to supply our sources of energy Given the enormity of the Fukushima disaster, the need to reconsider our national energy strategy is even more vital The United States is choosing to utilize its' own fossil fuel deposits rather than relying completely on foreign countries because we have the potential to provide significant amounts of affordable clean energy to homes and businesses There are multiple reasons for choosing to do this Other countries can produce oil for $6 or $8 per barrel, whereas the United States generally produces at a rate of $60-$70 per barrel According to the house Committee on Oversight and Reform in their May 6, 2011 hearing, "America suffers from a willingness to buy, a willingness to consume, but not nearly enough willingness to produce domestically." 1 (US Energy Trends pg 2)

The United States represent about 5% of the total world population, yet we consume 21.8% of the total energy supply worldwide 2The fact is that citizens of the United States are used to having energy available and just accept whatever cost is thrown at them Since the economy has been in a slump Americans are finding themselves out of work and still in need of excessive amounts of energy In order to lower energy consumption costs America has chosen to look inward for energy sources bringing us to the current dilemma As explained by SenBob Casey (Shale Gas and Water Impacts pg 2) of Pennsylvania, in the past people were not thinking of the environment when acquiring necessary energy resources Pennsylvania continues to deal with mine subsidence issues, mine water run-off, and other environmental impacts 3 The overarching issue here is that we need to ensure that the shale drilling is not going to cause more problems than it fixes down the road Students are going to be challenged to decide if they believe the best choice to make is to go ahead and continue with shale drilling or if the risks are too high and they decide the government should be looking into other fuel options.


There have been multiple variations in shale drilling techniques As technology develops techniques are being modified to be more environmentally friendly as well as more cost effective When thinking of the cost effectiveness of shale drilling one thing to keep in mind is that the most accessible oil has already been extracted from the earth and used for energyThis leads to the common sense notion that when you have to look harder for fuels to drill for, it is going to cost more to do so According to Rock Zierman the average cost of drilling in 1999 was $100 per foot, by 2008 the costs had risen to an average of $600 per foot in the United States. 4 (Zierman pg 13) What scientists are finding is that as technology has developed they are now able to go back to existing wells with the current advancements and continue to extract what was not previously obtainable

Many believe that shale gas extraction is a new technology; however, there are wells in the United States that have been and continue to produce for over 100 years Initially wells were drilled vertically, but again as techniques were modified engineers were able to develop methods for horizontal shale drilling allowing access to our existing resources Efforts are continually evolving to become more efficient and fruitful including delving into steam engineering as a new way to extract from existing wells Scientists are now able to force highly pressurized steam into the earth which helps mobilize otherwise unobtainable oil (Shale Gas and Water Impacts pg 43) Technology development is directly related to our ability to produce larger amounts of the energy we consume Another revolutionary idea was the development of 3 dimensional seismic imaging This is used not only as a tool to explore new oil and gas fields but also help look for untapped resources from existing locations (Shale Gas and Water Impacts pg 37) See the graphic below for an example of how this technology shows what resources are available for extraction 3.

image 5


When looking into the environmental concerns there are some key ideas to keep in mind Specifically referring to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) between 98 % and 99.5 % of what is forced into the ground is water and sand. 6 On average each well drilled for fracking requires 4 million gallons of water in order to safely extract the natural gas embedded in the pores of the shaleInitially you would think that 0.5% is a very small amount so it must not be bad, unfortunately when you consider that each well on average requires 4 million gallons of water not counting the sand that is a lot of chemicals Calculating 0.5% of just the water would equate to 20,000 gallons of chemicals per well, this quantification puts the massive amounts of chemicals used into perspectiveWhen dealing with large numbers it becomes elusive to think in terms of percentages When you think about the sheer number of gallons the amounts seem daunting at best Since the current legislation does not require companies to disclose what other chemicals are used in fracking a common perception is that the companies doing the drilling are being secretive and trying to hide which of the chemicals they use This issue is a double edged sword that needs to be scrutinized


Most often fluids are injected into the earth at a bore hole in order to increase pressure sufficiently to fracture the rocks below the bore hole Fracking fluids are designed and chosen based on how much pressure needs applied to overcome the tensile strength of the rock formation This cannot be done all at once so the rig workers usually do this in 500 ft sections They mark out a section and create several perforations using a perforating tool, and then they inject the fracking liquids including water, sand, and chemical additives to further crack the shale This allows fluids to move through the casing as well as allowing gas to move to the bore hole during production Once each stage has been finished they seal it off before beginning another section There are many safety precautions that have to be followed during this complex process 7 and much more detailed information is available based on the skills of your students.

Arguments Favoring Drilling:

Oil and gas drilling companies create good paying jobs during a recession their work is being delayed due to current legislation, there are instances of jobs being delayed 2 and 3 years waiting on permits In 2010 in Pennsylvania more than 140,000 jobs were created in Pennsylvania during 2010 not to mention the taxes and impact fees collected 8 Nearly $206.81 million dollars was collected in the state as impact fees collected in 2011 Municipalities normally use these funds to improve community infrastructure and services like the roads Statewide over 4,300 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania with nearly 1,200 located in southwestern Pennsylvania Currently southwestern Pa has an unemployment rate of 8.0%, 9 which provides an incentive for those unable to find a job to look into shale drilling The jobs available are not limited to hard labor, as there are currently postings for mechanics, managers, and engineers ranging in salaries well over $100,000 10

Shale drilling will likely continue to create jobs in addition to allowing the United States to get a step closer to becoming a sustainable country As printed in Business Week magazine it is estimated that 870,000 jobs will be created in the United States as a result of shale drilling by 2015. 11 It is also estimated that we will continue shifting our reliance from coal and oil to natural gas and other alternative fuels

Arguments Opposing Drilling:

Landowners are often upset by finding environmental degradation from carelessness like with mine subsidence and runoffMine subsidence is when abandoned mines collapse causing sink holes which may lead to residences or other structures sinking into the ground 12Many studies have found that fracking is being done responsibly, and there are alternatives technologies and methods that may not deplete or degrade other natural resources such as our drinking waterThe Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed in 1974 to protect public health 13 SDWA sets national standards against both naturally occurring and man-made contaminants This regulation was meant to analyze risk and set health protective standards If the government honestly felt that fracking was not a danger to the environment, it does not seem logical that they would exempt the oil and gas industry from these regulations

Nicola Jones published an article in May 2011 in Scientific American stating that the 14 most active companies who frack have released 3 billion liters of fracking fluid, not including water. 14 This amount is equivalent to 792,516,157 gallons of fracking fluids which contain 29 chemicals known to be carcinogens As more information comes to light the government has been second guessing its policy, in March the US House introduced a bill to close the SDWA loophole, but has not yet been passed. 15

If gas extraction threatens our water resources how might it pollute the air we breathe In addition to natural gas being leaked into the air other noxious gasses escape during fracking such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and other volatile organic compounds all of which are listed as being either dangerous or hazardous air pollutants Since chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde are byproducts of this process it interesting to find that these chemicals are not listed on the fracfocus.org website which voluntarily lists the most common chemicals used in fracking fluids 16 Obviously more information is needed to ensure the safety of not just Americans but all human beings and wildlife In April 2012 new air pollution standards were announced, but they were not enforced right away, and are to be slowly introduced over the next two years. 17

How might the benefits of natural gas extraction be weighed against the environmental risksHow should these outcomes be predicted, measured, and compared Are current laws designed to assure environmental protection, and if not, how might they be changedThere are studies currently in progress looking into replacing the water being used by other fluids such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide

The US Senate reported in their October 2011 meeting that the EPA launched a research study to understand the relationships between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources (US Energy Trends – pg 5-6) They are specifically looking into 5 key areas: water acquisition, mixing of chemicals, injection at the well, flow back and produced water, and disposal of wastewater These studies demonstrate that the water issues are manageable, meaning that it is possible to gain the economic benefits, and to minimize environmental risks


Despite these studies, I have been surprised and fascinated by the personal stories (not verified publicly) which suggest a much darker story about the consequences of frackingI was under the assumption that the EPA and DEP were groups who were around to ensure the protection of the environment while representing the people at the same time Numerous YouTube videos and the documentary Gas Land 18directed by Josh Fox reveal that these government agencies told land owners upset by their poor quality water or air that they were not there for them and to get a lawyer

These conflicts suggest that a student mock trial might highlight the differences in opinion and fact among landowners, gas companies, and governmental environmental agencies The focus of this unit is to exemplify how being a well-informed citizen could make a difference in our lives Students will collect information and analyze the risks involved with extracting natural resources and compare them to the benefits There doesn't seem to be a single answer, it boils down to one's personal values and how they decipher the information available through a multitude of sources.

Students will be given the opportunity to see how science is being used and refined practically in their own back yardsFracking is a booming industry that causes a lot of tension within communities By exploring the techniques used in hydraulic fracturing in addition to analyzing the environmental concerns the students will be responsible for identifying facts and coming up with arguments for or against drilling As high school teachers we are to introduce our students to various career paths, this mock trial can be a tool to introduce them to political or judicial careers in addition to looking at what it takes to be a scientist While career exploration may not be the key objective here, we need to keep in mind that no matter where we are in life no one will believe a word you say unless you can back it upOne parallel can be found in the scoring of standardized tests where rubrics specifically look for these same parts that students provide in their classes In open ended testing questions students are asked to read the question, answer what is being asked, and then to cite where they got their answer from, and finally explain how the answer they came up with makes sense It should make sense that we model this approach to open ended questions in the classroomThis is an excellent example of how teachers can support each other by using this format across curricula In this unit students must read for comprehension, take note of facts they may need to reference as expert witnesses, and most importantly anticipate what information their counterparts may have available to discredit them They need to summarize what they read into smaller chunks of information which will enable them to recall these facts later They need to think of the opposite view, so analyzing how their opinion is vulnerable or poorly founded will enable them to quickly rebut statements of criticism They have the opportunity here to take a political stance, and see how government regulations are necessary This is also meant to inspire them to vote By incorporating current legislation and amendments they are forced to think about who makes the decisions about which laws get passed My intent is to instill a passion for involvement and an understanding of how our right to vote really does make a difference

Connecting to the Common Core:

One of the newer trends across the nation is to utilize a set of core standards holding students accountable for similar content regardless of where they are being taught In anticipation of the introduction to the common core 19 for science being adopted in Pennsylvania I have researched the areas this unit will approach The three key standards that I believe to be crucial for my students include Earth, Science, Technology, & Society, and most importantly connections in teaching science.

It is important to understand the structures and the composition of Earth in order to understand what resources are available Since hydraulic fracturing is utilizing the resources found within it is imperative that they be connected In order to get students to model the behavior of scientists we need them to research topics, analyze what they have read, and then determine their own opinions about the outcomes of the system of interactions they have studied This topic has multiple facets engaging the thinking of students in order to connect and rank their feelings about facts not only effecting the environment around them but also the economy of the community they live in As a people we are responsible for being well rounded educated citizens who vote based on our own ethics and beliefs Fracking is a large-scale project affecting communities across the nation Our children's future welfare should be an integral part the government and corporate decision making regarding the processes that affect the Earth's natural resourcesTechnology has been the driving force in recent decades enabling us as a society to determine how our energy needs will be met Through examining the existing technologies and those in development we need to analyze if our current decision makers are keeping our best interests at heart, and if they are not we need to take action to make sure our opinions are heard There is current legislation regulating the processes being used to gather these energy resources, but it is up to the public to evaluate the efficacy of criteria for determining if the policies are appropriate or if they need to be amended Searching the internet you can find thousands of references about fracking; however, the media sensationalize the stories they believe will increase ratings, so we need to verify the scientific claims for ourselves and then debate in hopes of coming to a consensus The fact remains that we have one Earth, and one limited set of natural resources, the consequences of fracking need to be in the forefront of technological advances allowing companies to be proactive rather than cleaning up their mess after it is too late.

Coming from a chemistry background I completely understand when my students complain that they will "never need to know this" Fracking is a current issue happening all around us that definitely affects them I can't think of an easier way to identify how science is important in our everyday lives This is also a prime example of how cross curricular content can be utilized to make ideas resonate with our students and actually identify the various sides to a problem rather than just assuming that there has to be one right answer, and if there is more than one correct answer that the question was foolish I am excited about this because it ties all areas together We need to look into the application of science and technology at a local level while still relating this knowledge to our other disciplines in addition to getting students to realize that this industry may include a career for them in the near future

Embedding Rigor:

Sometimes it is hard to know what students really or do not understand In Making Thinking Visible 20 there are a number of "thinking moves" which allow teachers to determine if students have developed an understanding of concepts or notThe eight thinking moves are: observing closely and describing what's there, building explanations and interpretations, reasoning with evidence, making connections, considering different viewpoints and perspectives, capturing the heart and forming conclusions, wondering and asking questions, and uncovering complexity and going below the surface of thinking (Ritchart 11-13)These various thinking moves are tools teachers can use to elicit the connections students make between bits of information they have learnedIn order to encompass all of these thinking moves I have developed a list of characters that students will emulate in order to represent the various outlooks on frackingTo understand the importance of each opinion I have developed a mock trial format where students will have to research the beliefs of their character and be able to represent that individual in a court of law In order to encourage Academic Conversations 21 Jeff Zwiers & Marie Crawford came up with a list of 7 features of effective conversation tasks In order to make sure that just one student doesn't do the work and everyone else just sits back and relaxes this unit has been designed to require all team mates to talk to each other and support each other In addition the other academic conversation moves which are also incorporated into this mock trial are: requiring critical and creative thinking, taking advantage of controversies and conflict, recognizing and reducing ambiguity, encouraging thinking based on principles, building opportunities for transfer of knowledge and skills, and most importantly it provides choice and ownership The idea is that a lawsuit has been brought against Freddy Frack who has been extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in PennsylvaniaThe lawsuit focuses on the contamination of drinking water and air quality standards The prosecution will need to prove that Freddy knew he was doing something wrong and was negligent in his work.


Freddy Frack: Freddy does not feel as though he is doing anything wrong as he is in compliance with the local ordinances Freddy has copies of his permits and is just worried about keeping his company in business He makes sure his men are insured and receive a fair wage for the work that they do

Eddie Economy: Eddie is an expert witness about how fracking is creating good paying jobs and will continue to create jobs in the future He will bring up the current ads found around Pittsburgh showing pictures of children along with career options His job in this scenario is to show how fracking is helping Pennsylvania work itself out of this recession and providing clean "cheap" energy which is what consumers are looking for

Ernest Energy: The CEO of Joules of the Future, which is an energy producing company, in order to protect his job he will explain how natural gas is the energy of the future and how if we are ever going to be a sustainable country we need to learn how to support our "energy habits" without importing resources Ernest is ready to explain how fracking is the innovation which will allow North America to be self-supporting in terms of energy In addition he stresses that research is continually being done to ensure the safety of the environment, and to be as cost effective and efficient as possible

Working Willie: A family man who had been laid off for several years due to the factory he worked in outsourcing jobs to other countries Willie's house was about to be foreclosed when he finally found a job in the Natural Gas Industry He has sacrificed time with his family in order to be able to support them and make sure they have a chance at the life he never had He now makes more money than he ever has, has gotten himself out of debt, and is saving up for college educations for his children His view is that fracking saved his life, metaphorically speaking He was at his wits end prior to being hired and encourages his friends and family members to take advantage of this booming industry so that their children can look up to them as breadwinners

Optional Characters:

Sammie Super: The rig supervisor, his job is to ensure compliance of the workers and to be proactive when it comes to safety concerns Each day he has to write reports on what safety concerns were addressed and if he thinks there are any additional issues to be looked into He is also responsible for dealing with workers who do not follow protocol The other rig workers refer to him as the company man, they do not necessarily like him, but he is there to protect them from carelessness.

Connie Consumer: A typical American who enjoys driving her car, using her electronics, etcbut does not understand why energy costs are so high She has come to plead her case for using American Resources for energy in hope of reducing the global demand for foreign supplies which would in turn lower energy costs

Prosecution: Plaintiffs

A trial wouldn't be a trial if there were not a prosecutor The prosecutor in this case has a list of expert witnesses to make the case against Freddy including an EPA& DEP representative, Lady Law, Terry Treehug, Larry Landowner, Recycling Randy, and Mother Nature

DEP Rep: The representative(s) for the EPA and DEP are here to represent the importance of water as a resource that we need to protect and conserve There are multiple issues that need to be brought to light when it comes to the water used in fracking For example they want to address water acquisition and the energy costs to transport the water to the site, the mixing of chemicals, the injection at the well, flow back and produced water, as well as the disposal of waste water (Suggestions: if you separated the two you might characterize the federal EPA as tougher than the state DEP, based on local politics.

Lady Law: Lady is here to explain what laws and regulations have to be adhered to in order to extract the natural gas responsibly She will specifically reference the Safe Drinking Water Act, and regulations including ch78, 79, 92, 95, 102, and 105 (SDWA) She should be knowledgeable of these regulations and of any pending modifications This includes the process of applying for permits and the reason those permits are necessary

Larry Landowner: Larry owns property adjacent to a fracking well and feels that there are repercussions from the fracking that are not being addressed If you look on YouTube you will find multiple videos describing events which I did not find referenced in any article There are references to noxious odors, contaminated drinking water, oozing substances out of rocks, deaths of pets, etc Larry acknowledges that his neighbor needed the money they got for allowing a well to be put on their land but thinks fracking is not worth the health hazards He is here to plead for the safety of other land owners so that they do not have to suffer like he has Larry should also share how he thought about moving but since the environmental issues have risen after the well was drilled he can not get a fair price for his land.

Terry Treehug: A representative of a local environmental group who is outraged with the use of chemicals in this process and wants to ensure that the earth will not be harmed by extracting the natural gas stored within her like a child in her womb Terry will share stories of those who can no longer use the groundwater for drinking and laundry He may also bring up environmental issues which arose as a result of mine subsidence and mine water runoff He needs to be convinced that appropriate precautions are being taken in order to protect the Earth.

Optional Characters:

Recycling Randy: Randy is a citizen concerned about the massive amounts of water being used in the fracking process and what happens to that water after it has been used He wants to ensure that the water is somehow recycled He is also interested in the reuse of sediments from the back flow caused by fracking His philosophy is what goes up must come back down…..or in this case what goes down comes back up

Mother Nature: Mother Nature acknowledges that no one is out to intentionally ruin the environment, but wants to make sure we know what the cost of using our resources is Mother Nature is like the loving grandmother who can only be pushed so far Once you push one button too many, you are going to get it! Mother Nature has a way of getting us to look at more than just one selfish perspective She brings up the possibility of creating earthquakes as a result of fracking

What this project comes down to is straight research Something I will stress with my students is the difference between an observation and an inference They may see moving videos on YouTube but in order to prove an event is a direct result of the hydraulic fracturing there has to be data to back it up Again going back to modeling the behaviors of scientists we need to encourage our students to go beyond the "because I said so" answerThe resources referenced in this unit are meant to be a starting point You can provide groups with the roles they are to represent only, or you can provide specific documents and/or scientific studies to guide them based on their academic needs In the case of large classes I encourage students to pair up as possible For instance there are two lawyers representing the opposing sides, it may be overwhelming for one student to be the only innovator in creating and presenting the case If possible I suggest adding a second chair and third chair lawyer for each caseThey will be able to confer with the other attorneys aiding in strategy planning, fact checking, and most importantly cross examinations Coming from the city my students love to argue, this is a way to tap into their passion but at the same time guide their skill and encourage them to think on their feet and have facts readily available to rebut someone else's statement

The final character that I would assign is a media reporter, Reporting Rita, whose job it is to recap the trial each day Inevitably someone will be absent and will need to get caught up with the progress of the trial I think this position could be an integral part to really understanding the arguments If a student can listen and then summarize prior to making a judgment they are more likely to be cognizant of their choices.

Introducing the unit:

In order to hook the students into this unit I suggest playing two videos to the class to introduce the idea of shale drilling and begin a conversation between them



The class needs to divide itself into the two sides equally, then assign roles There will be a need to first, second, and third chair lawyers for both sides of the argument in addition to expert witnesses as outlined above Students will need a week of class time to research their roles in the trial They will also need to practice cross-examining each other to ensure they are prepared for the trial I am attaching an example note-taking scaffold that you may choose to give to students Keep in mind that students are not only to learn about the different facets of shale drilling but also learn about the various career choices introduced in this unit They have the opportunity to explore judiciary roles, scientific roles, as well as the roles of entrepreneurs and landowners We want to challenge our students to emulate the knowledge and responses of the characters they represent This is a very personal issue, which has no clear cut answer It is truly up to the students and they work they put into the trial to decide if shale drilling is worth the risk to the environment given the economic benefits.

Chart 1: Current sources of energy



Chart 2: Location of wells drilled in Pennsylvania



Chart 3: Location of wells drilled by county



Chart 4: Unemployment rates by county



Character:___________________________ Defense/ Prosecution

Strong Arguments:

Weak Arguments:

What does our side want to achieve in this case?

How will we achieve this?

What evidence will help us?

What evidence will hurt us?

What is important to include in the opening statement?

What testimony should be emphasized/de-emphasized with regard to this witness?

What evidence is useful or hurts our case?

What kind of legal argument should we make in the closing statement?

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