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Energy, Geosphere



An intense drilling boom targeting natural gas in the Barnett Shale located beneath Fort Worth, Texas, has occurred since 2002.

The Barnett Shale formation is located about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) below the surface and ranges between 250-350 feet (76-107 meters) thick. It produces natural gas, in commercial quantities, only after hydraulic fracturing - injecting a fluid (usually water containing high-viscosity fluid additives) under high pressure. After the formation is fractured, a "propping agent" (usually sand carried by the high-viscosity additives) is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing when the pumping pressure is released. Hydraulic fracturing allows the natural gas to move more freely from the rock pores to a production well so that it can be brought to the surface. (Source: EPA).

New technological advancements in drilling and hydraulic fracturing have contributed to an explosive production of natural gas in an urban setting. There are projected to be between 1,100-2,000 natural gas wells to be drilled inside the city limits of Fort Worth. This drilling boom has implications beyond Texas. Shale beds found throughout North America - natural gas long believed to be out of reach - are being drilled or considered for natural gas production.

In addition to the economic benefits, natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels. It releases less of the greenhouse gas emissions - sulfur, carbon, and nitrogen - that cause global warming than coal or oil. However, as with other fuels, natural gas affects the environment when it is produced, stored and transported.

Are the impacts on the Earth system of harvesting natural gas from shale beds, especially in urban areas, worth the benefits?



Your group has been tasked to develop recommendations for the Texas State Legislature concerning drilling for natural gas in urban areas. Members of this body are concerned that the rush to meet rising and profitable energy demands will leave safety and environmental quality at risk. Much of the information that they have found on this issue appears to have a bias "either for or against drilling" and they urgently need an objective, independent analysis.

The legislators are particularly interested in quantifying the pros or cons in terms of dollars; lowered greenhouse emissions and potentially positive impact on global climate change; and overall impact on the environment. Your recommendations should include a thorough analysis of the impacts on the Earth system - surface and subsurface; surface water and groundwater resources; atmosphere; and the local biosphere - as a result of the Barnett Shale drilling boom.


Date: 8/7/2008

Scenario Images:

Oil Rig In Urban Area
Drilling The Dale Operating Fourth Street 'A' Gas Unit #1H, East Downtown Fort Worth, Texas, October 2006, Courtesy of Dale Operating, Photo by Mike Fuentes.

Oil Infrastructure
Photo provided by Dale Resources. This picture is of the Gateway #1H, Brentwood #1H,and Carter #1H. The three natural gas wells were drilled just North of Gateway Park inside the city limits of Ft. Worth.



Barnett Boom Ignites Hunt for Unconventional Gas Resources (Cycle A)
January 2007: University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences


Dale Resources Community Presentation (Cycle A)
This site was produced by one of the principle companies drilling the Barnett Shale. It provides information on drilling rigs, noise abatement, releasing gas from depths, horizontal drilling, leasing and mineral rights, and guidelines for school-aged children. Says Dale: "Safety, security and quality of life are of the highest priority for Dale. Because Dale specializes in working within heavily populated urban areas, we place a strong emphasis on safety and sound abatement, using next-generation, urban-friendly sound techniques and drilling equipment."


Drilling Boom Revives Hope for Natural Gas (Cycle A)
Aug. 25, 2008 article in the NY Times.


Energy Information Administration (EIA) (Cycle A)
The EIA provides official energy statistics from the U.S. Government. This site includes natural gas data, reports, analysis and surveys.


Natural Gas Basics 101 (Cycle A)
This background reference was developed by the Energy Information Administration as part of their Web site on Energy Basics.


Natural gas vs. contaminated water (Cycle A)
July 29, 2008 - Shale gas holds great promise as a domestic energy source, but some say the rules covering the chemicals used to extract it are too lax.


Trinity River Authority (Cycle A)
The Trinity River Authority of Texas is a political subdivision of the state of Texas charged by legislative mandate with three functions. These include maintenance of a master plan for basin-wide development, serving as local sponsor for federal water projects and providing services authorized by the Texas Legislature within the defined territory of TRA. Their Website includes information on facilities, regional planning and environmental monitoring of the Trinity River.


Argonne National Laboratory: Trip Report for Field Visit to Fayetteville Shale Gas Wells (Cycle B)
This report was prepared as part of a low impact natural gas and oil project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.


Assessment of Sediment Runoff From Natural Gas Well Development Sites (Cycle B)
Small construction sites of 1-5 acres in the United States are currently regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to minimize storm water runoff damages to the environment. Gas well construction sites are similar to other construction sites in how the landscape is altered, but are not similarly regulated. This study by the University of Texas identified sediment runoff from gas well development sites by collecting it in traps and weirs, and by measuring sediment debris lobes.


Barnett Shale Groundwater Study (Cycle B)
Assessment of groundwater use in the Northern Trinity Aquifer due to urban growth and Barnett Shale development.


Drilling Waste Management Information System (Cycle B)
The Drilling Waste Management Information System was developed by Argonne National Laboratory and industry partners, ChevronTexaco and Marathon, under the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Natural Gas & Oil Technology Partnership program. Funding for the project was provided through DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory.


Intermediate to Advanced Topics Petroleum (Cycle B)
Porosity & permeability, mud logs, oil & gas traps, and well completions.
Oil On My Shoes
Oil & Gas Onshore Animation Portfolio
Oil & Gas Processes Animation Portfolio

Investigate the Deposition and Unconformity animations at the bottom left.


Make Sure Fracking is Done Right (Cycle B)
Fracking can be done safely, but rules must be in place to regulate it, says Michael Levi in an editorial.


The Geology of the Barnett Shale (Cycle B)
What are the geologic characteristics of the Barnett Shale?

Moderate in-depth discussion
Advanced Barnett Shale geological study
Advanced stratigraphic (below ground) concepts & drilling pitfalls
Ellenburger Formation, Karst Geology, etc.


Bounty from Below: The Impact of Developing Natural Gas Resources Associated with the Barnett Sha... (Cycle C)
Economic Analysis developed by the Perryman Group.


International debate over fracking (Cycle C)
Fear of quakes and flammabe tap water hit Britain as fracking looms.


Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006 (April 2008) (Cycle C)
A greenhouse gas inventory is an accounting of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to or removed from the atmosphere over a specific period of time (e.g., one year). A greenhouse gas inventory also provides information on the activities that cause emissions and removals, as well as background on the methods used to make the calculations. Policy makers use greenhouse gas inventories to track emission trends, develop strategies and policies and assess progress. Scientists use greenhouse gas inventories as inputs to atmospheric and economic models.

To track the national trend in emissions and removals since 1990, EPA develops the official U.S. greenhouse gas inventory each year. The national greenhouse gas inventory is submitted to the United Nations in accordance with the Framework Convention on Climate Change


The Barnett Drilling Boom Invades Ft. Worth, TX (Cycle C)
What are the requirements & restrictions of drilling & producing a natural gas well in an urban environment?
Barnett Shale Energy Education Council
Fort Worth Gas Well Drilling
Star Telegram Ngas Blog
RRC of Texas Barnett Shale Information - explore this page in depth.
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission - Colorado's Draft of New O&G Rules p. 103 High (population) Density rules, Vapor rules, Out of sight rules etc.


What is Causing Texas Earthquakes? (Cycle C)
Since 2008, the northern region of Texas experienced four swarms of earthquakes, more 130 temblors in all. Susan Hough, a seismologiest who has studied seismic activity for years, says the shaking pattern "fits the mold of induced quakes."


Sample Investigations:


Fossil Energy Study Guides and Activities (Cycle A)
This site includes resources for elementary, middle and high school education from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Difficulty: intermediate


Fossil Fuels: Natural Gas (Cycle A)
This lesson for grades 9-12 provides an introduction to the use of natural gas as an energy source. Topics include its advantages (cleanliness, fewer carbon emissions), disadvantages (difficulty in transport and storage), sources, and usage. There is also a discussion of the creation and production of natural gas, the United States' production and reserves, and some potential new sources. This activity is from Environmental Science Activities for the 21st Century, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It is part of a module on Fossil Fuels, which includes coal, oil, natural gas.

Difficulty: beginner


Learning about Fossil Fuels - Natural Gas (Cycle A)
We've all seen the blue flame on top of a gas stove or beneath a gas furnace. But where do we get the gas that fuels the flame? Includes 3 parts: Part 1: Fueling the Blue Flame, Part 2: The History of Natural Gas and Part 3: Getting Gas from the Ground...and the Sea
This learning guide for middle school-level students is from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Difficulty: beginner


Gas Pressure - Earthwatch Radio (Cycle B)
The producers of Earthwatch Radio published a collection of scripts in 1990 under the title Earthwatching III. The book included a guide to help teachers use the scripts in the classroom. Sections of that guide are included on this Web site to help teachers use the online scripts for teaching subjects related to science and the environment. This radio broadcast "Gas Pressure" - discusses the boom in natural gas drilling in the Rocky Mountain region and is possible impacts on the environment. A resource advocate points out the issue of well density, which can range from four wells per square mile to sixteen, 32, or more, and results in fragmentation of habitat as well as an ugly industrial appearance. The clip is 2 minutes in length.
Difficulty: intermediate


Global System Science: Energy Use (Cycle B)
Global Systems Science (GSS) is an interdisciplinary, integrated course for high school students, created by the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California, Berkeley. One of the GSS units is Energy Use, which is about the ways that humans use energy. The four goals for this unit are: Goal 1: Students will appreciate the diversity of energy forms in everyday life; Goal 2: Students will realize what our sources of energy are. Goal 3: Students will realize the many end uses of energy in homes, businesses and industry; and Goal 4: Students realize the significance of energy in their lives and how each person affects the flow of energy on the planet. Teachers can download and review "Read only" versions of the GSS guides (requires registering for a user name and password at the GSS site).

Difficulty: intermediate


Economics and Emissions (Grades 5-8) (Cycle C)
Students produce a manufactured good, monitor energy consumption, encounter international government regulations, make choices about emissions and energy choices, and share findings in order to understand how international commerce could affect GHG emissions and the economy. This activity is part of the CSI (Climate Status Investigations) curriculum (account registration required).
Difficulty: intermediate


Economics and Emissions (Grades 9-12) (Cycle C)
Students produce a manufactured good, monitor energy consumption, encounter international government regulations, make choices about emissions and energy choices, and share findings in order to understand how international commerce could affect GHG emissions and the economy. This activity is part of the CSI (Climate Status Investigations) curriculum (account required).
Difficulty: intermediate


The NEED Project: Putting Energy into Education (Cycle C)
The NEED project includes several curriculum guides for K-12 related to the science of energy. Check out the curriculum materials on this site, including Energy Flow (Students learn about the forms of energy, how energy is converted from one form to another, and how energy flows through systems) Fossil Fuels to Products.
Difficulty: intermediate




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
        • Risks and benefits
        • Science and technology in society
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
        • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
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