Sand, Sieves, and Fracking

Margaret E. (Beth) McMillan, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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Students analyze the physical characteristics of sand to determine if it is suitable for use in hydraulic fracturing.

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I use this early in the semester in my udergraduate required Sedimentology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need some experience with basic lab observation skills using a dissection microscope, hand lens, and grain size card. They also need to be able to identify common sedimentary minerals.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students learn how to apply a textural analysis of sediments.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Conversion of observations into geologic data; collection and analysis of data; synthesis of qualitative and quantitative data into a written description; comparison of results to a standard

Other skills goals for this activity

Other goals in this exercise include writing, excel spreadsheets, use of microscope, balance and sieve equipment in a lab setting.

Description and Teaching Materials

We are fortunate to have a sand processing facility within 10 miles of our campus where a local energy company mines and processes sand for use in hydraulic fracturing. I take my students to tour this facility for their first field trip in Sedimentology. This lab exercise follows. I break my class into groups of 3-5 students and give each group a different sample of sand. They observe and describe the texture of their sample using hand lens, microscope and grain size cards. They also process their sample through a set of standard sieves and calculate descriptive statistics to help characterize their sample. They write two descriptions of their sand sample, present and discuss their results with the class, and evaluate the suitability of their sample for the hydraulic fracturing process.
Student handout for Sand, Sieves and Fracking (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 33kB May27 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise works best if it follows instruction on sedimentary textures and the hydraulic fracturing process. Time frames of when each part should be completed need to be very clear, especially when the students need to be ready to discuss their samples in class.


Assessment of how students meet goals are how well they do in description of rock and sediment samples in subsequent lab exercises, field exercises and the lab exam.

References and Resources