Drilling Down on Marcellus Shale: Insights Into Fracking and Natural Gas Pipelines

A Lehigh University Student Project

Sponsored by the Environmental Initiative and the Science and Environmental Writing Program

This Project's Origin 

Because hydraulic fracturing or fracking of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is a major environmental controversy covered heavily by the media, it has been an ideal subject for a research and writing project in a Lehigh course called "Environment, the Public and the Mass Media." During the fall semesters from 2012 to 2014, undergraduate students from various majors including Environmental Studies and Science and Environmental Writing spent half a semester researching fracking in the academic literature and the mass and social media. In the fall of 2015, natural gas pipelines became a relevant research topic as the PennEast Pipeline was proposed to run through the county that houses Lehigh University. During these years, guest speakers spoke to the classes and students interviewed scientists, industry experts, environmental activists and affected citizens. In the fall of 2013, the class took a day-long field trip to a drilling site in Susquehanna County in central Pennsylvania and toured a drilling rig site and production area operated by Southwestern Energy, as well as a natural gas refueling area where Cabot Oil & Gas employees demonstrated how their trucks fueled by natural gas worked. Before the tour, the students listened to a series of morning briefings by educators, local government officials and a land owner. The field trip was financially supported by Lehigh’s Environmental Initiative. In Fall 2014, students attended a PennEast pipeline open house in the community.

This intense study culminated in a series of papers, each on an aspect of the fracking or pipeline controversies, written to serve as a Web guide for readers. Of the 13 papers submitted in 2012, six were selected for this website, evaluated on the quality of the students' research. Of the 16 papers submitted in 2013, seven were selected; two out of 14 were selected in 2014; and seven out of 15 papers were selected in 2015 based on the same criterion. It is important to understand that these papers do not present the whole picture or a balanced point of view about fracking or pipelines. Some important Marcellus topics are missing. The papers are, however, starting points to encourage people to explore these and other fracking topics. Written in varying styles, the papers have only been lightly edited to maintain the writer's voice about the topic.  


This website was originally organized by Christine McLaren, a Lehigh Presidential Scholar who earned a Master's degree in Health Systems Engineering in 2013, after completing a Science and Environmental Writing undergraduate degree in 2012. Katherine Howley, class of 2014, majoring in Science and Environmental Writing and Cognitive Science, updated the website with the 2013 research papers and videos. The student videos were shot by Meghan Barwick, Journalism major, class of 2015. Prof. Sharon Friedman assisted in various aspects of the website development.