THE MARCELLUS SHALE IN THE CLASSROOM: USING A MULTI-PRONGED APPROACH TO TEACH THIS CONTEMPORARY, CONTROVERSIAL, MULTIFACETED GEOLOGIC TOPIC
To expose students to many facets of this topic, I used a multi-pronged approach. I’ve taught two seminars focusing on the Marcellus Shale – a 2-credit seminar in Fall 2010 and a 1-credit seminar in Spring 2012. Combining seminars, I employed numerous educational strategies to wade through hearsay and focus on concrete issues. Students read several pertinent articles from the recent literature. Topics included deposition, stratigraphy, tectonic setting, deformation, gas generation, water resources, drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods, environmental impacts, waste-water treatment, policy matters, and societal issues. Linked question sets followed article content, but I provided open-ended questions for students to express opinions and consider greater issues. I supplied more references on the course website to provide a deeper exploration and sent updates on breaking news. Each student then tackled their own topic of interest. Topics investigated followed those given above, but results, in the form of each student either writing a 2-page abstract and giving a 15-minute presentation (S12) or writing a 10-page research paper and giving a 45-minute lecture (F10), were more nuanced and personal. Topics ranged from detailed petrostratigraphy, to natural hydraulic fracturing processes, to alternative hydraulic fracturing methods, to waste-water treatment technologies, to erosion and sedimentation policy infractions, to impacts in state forests, to leasing, to new state legislation.
As part of the seminars, students attended several guest lectures in-house, with gas industry and environmental experts and geologists represented and recent graduates now working in the field returning to speak, and visited nearby institutions to participate in public forums on the Marcellus controversy. Students also created an informational poster as educational outreach on campus. I intend for future seminars to include field trips to a well site and to outcrops and to explore other formations, namely the Utica Shale, likely the more important shale-gas play in northwestern Pennsylvania.