Natural Gas and the Marcellus Shale

Sid Halsor
Wilkes University
Author Profile


This homework problem introduces students to the Marcellus shale natural gas play and how an unconventional reservoir rock can become an attractive hydrocarbon target.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This homework problem has been used in an introductory geology course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Command of porosity, permeability, reservoir rock, cap rock, conventional drilling methods, environmental impacts

How the activity is situated in the course

This is one of several outside homework assignments.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • The potential of unconventional natural gas reservoirs in meeting our energy needs
  • The economic and technological factors that increase natural gas reserves
  • Environmental impacts associated with unconventional exploration and development

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students should be able to synthesize technological advances and their impact on hydrocarbon extraction and environmental protection. They also need to perform basic data analysis.

Other skills goals for this activity

Accessing and utilizing reliable internet resources

Description of the activity/assignment

To complete this homework problem students should be familiar with conventional aspects of crude oil and natural gas exploration, including hydrocarbon traps, reservoir characteristics (porosity and permeability), recovery and environmental impacts. The homework is designed to expand their understanding of hydrocarbon resources by introducing an unconventional natural gas play. Students explore the technological factors that make conventional source rocks attractive reservoir rocks and how this advance impacts both U.S. energy supply and the environment. The strategy of the assignment is to lead students through a learning process in which concepts are introduced and followed by questions that require application of the concepts. For example, the concept of an unconventional reservoir rock is introduced and then followed by a question about why shale would be considered such a reservoir rock. Although some basic statistical analysis is required, the thrust of the homework problem is to grasp how technology is changing national energy supply.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Homework goals are assessed by evaluating student responses of 10 integrated questions.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs