Skip to Content

Fracking: What Educators Need to Know

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a controversial technique for securing natural gas. It involves drilling deep into layers of shale rock, injecting a mixture of large amounts of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas. Certain parts of the country are home to a lot of this resource, such as the Marcellus Shale beneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. How much – if at all – fracking appears in the news or is discussed in homes may depend on where students live. Yet tackling fracking in the classroom can serve as an important window into the challenges and innovations associated with powering this country.

Like many topics at the intersection of energy and environment, fracking is the subject of intense debate. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas is an important part of reducing pollution, and fracking responsibly has its benefits. Yet there are many unknowns about fracking’s impact on the health of the people who live near sites.

Opponents are concerned about waste-contaminated drinking water, harmful to people and animals. The large amount of water used is also a concern given drought conditions in parts of the U.S. Opponents also believe fracking’s release of methane gas contributes to global warming, but some believe drilling for natural gas may be better for overall air quality than mining coal.

Some support fracking at home over reliance on oil from abroad. Fracking sites also offer much needed jobs in some areas, and provide natural gas at more affordable rates for many. Yet some opponents think the focus on natural gas detracts from exploring renewable resources such as solar power. Natural gas drilling and power plants can also erode the land and destroy natural habitats for plants and animals.

According to Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford, “Some people say that fracking is always safe while others say it never is. Our research shows something in between.” Jackson has found that it depends on the site; sometimes there is evidence of groundwater contamination and sometimes there isn’t. Human error in ensuring safeguards, rather than fracking itself, may be to blame.

For now, research continues to determine if it environment. States and industry members are also working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to figure out how to best regulate the practice. In some places, more definitive action is underway. Starting in 2015, New York State banned fracking after an investigation showed there is not enough information to identify or manage the health risks.

Educators can learn more about fracking from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. For classroom resources on fracking, visit the NEA Health Information Network (link) for tools, activities and lesson plans.





Earth Day Curriculum Resources
Explore new and review familiar ways to live responsibly with these lessons, projects, activities, and games.

Clean Energy Education
Lesson Plans, Activities and Resources Empower Students to Make Informed Choices and Develop Creative Solutions to Environmental Challenges