The Fracking MEL

The Fracking MEL engages students in a scientific discussion around the topic of whether or not there is a relation between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations and increases in moderate magnitude earthquakes in Midwestern US. With increases in fracking operations, it is important for students to understand how to weigh the connection between evidence and alternative explanations about associated phenomena. This particular MEL does not have an overwhelming scientific consensus that favors one model over another. By having the students critically analyze both models with respect to the evidence presented to them, students are engaging in a current scientific debate.

Below are links to resources that will help students use the Fracking MEL and learn more about fundamental scientific principles related to this issue.


This article provides an introduction to the Fracking MEL plus suggestions from classroom use including management tips and specific areas in which students might have difficulties and suggestions for assisting students with their understanding, such as providing additional background information and hands-on investigations.

Fracking Front Page
Evaluating the Connections Between Fracking and Earthquakes TES (Acrobat (PDF) 1019kB Jun4 18)

The Models

Model A: The increase in moderate magnitude earthquakes in the Midwest is caused by fracking for fossil fuels.
Model B: The increase in moderate magnitude earthquakes in the Midwest is caused by normal tectonic plate motion.

Student Handouts

Lines of Evidence

Evidence #1: Fracking fluids and wastewater injected into the ground change the stress in Earth's crust.
Evidence #2: During recent years, the number of earthquakes near fracking sites was 11 times higher than the 30-year average.
Evidence #3: Convection of hot but solid and ductile rocks in the upper mantle creates stresses in Earth's crust. These stresses cause Earth's crust to fracture.
Evidence #4: Many earthquakes are currently occurring in regions surrounding fracking sites.

Student Handouts

When the Fracking MEL was first introduced to the students, it was became clear that the geologic processes involved in fracking were unfamiliar to most. This introductory background reading was developed to assist students.

Other Resources

This Plausibility Ranking Task (PRT), which may be completed prior to using any MELs, helps students to understand the role of evidence in supporting or refuting models.

The Explanation Task is part of each MEL Activity. In this task, students provide written explanations for the arrows they draw on the diagram. The following rubric may be used to score students' written explanations.