Initial Publication Date: June 4, 2018

The Fracking pcMEL

The Fracking pcMEL 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 pcMEL and learn more about fundamental scientific principles related to this issue.


This article provides an introduction to the Fracking pcMEL 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)

Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations

MS-ESS2-5: Earth's Systems

  • Develop a model describing the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

HS-ESS2-5: Earth's Systems

  • Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.

MS-ETS1-1: Engineering Design

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

HS-ETS1-3: Engineering Design

  • Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-ESS3-2: Earth and Human Activity

  • Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

HS-ESS3-4: Earth and Human Activity

  • Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

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.

Virtual MEL

The Google Drive folder below contains MEL resource documents in the Google formats. In order to maximize the flexibility of our activities, the MEL Project Team wanted to make more resources compatible with virtual settings. We have made our MEL scaffolds available in Google formats, so that they can be copied, modified, and uploaded more easily on a variety of platforms and devices. Please note that to access all the materials for each MEL scaffold, you will need a Google account. View the README file first.