Fundamentals of Shale Energy Development: Geology, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Environmental, Geopolitical and Socio-economic Impacts

GEOSC 397 Syllabus (Fall 2019)

GEOSC 397: Special Topics
Syllabus (Fall 2019)

It is essential that you read the entire syllabus, which serves as our course "contract."


Andrew Nyblade
Contact: Please email your instructor through Canvas for the most prompt response.

picture of Andrew Nyblade

Dr. Andrew Nyblade, Professor of Geoscience, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Contact: Please email your instructor through Canvas for the most prompt response.

Course Overview

Description: Energy is a critical component of modern society, yet we face significant challenges associated with balancing energy demands, energy security, environmental sustainability, and stable economics with sound regulations and policy. Unconventional energy development from shale formations has been a game-changer for the fossil fuel industry over the past decade and is projected to continue to grow over the next several decades. But there are still many uncertainties on how to optimally develop these largely untapped resources to maximize the social benefits while minimizing environmental impacts. This course covers key topics needed to provide students with an overview of the science, engineering, environmental impacts, geopolitics, economics and societal impacts of shale energy development. These topics include geology, resource assessment, drilling technology, hydraulic fracturing methods, environmental impacts, economics, workforce needs, infrastructure, utilization trends, regulation, energy policy, energy exports, international geopolitics, societal considerations, and the future of unconventional energy and its relationship with other energy forms. The class is geared toward a broad audience of students to provide a big-picture view of the shale energy landscape.

Prerequisites: none

What We Expect of You

On average, most students spend 6-10 hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different than a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us as well as with your fellow students.

Course Goals and Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the following class objectives will be met:

  1. Describe the formation of organic-rich shales and sedimentary basins

  2. Explain the processes of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing

  3. Identify common environmental problems arising from shale energy development

  4. Relate energy production/utilization trends to shale energy development

  5. Articulate important environmental regulation and energy policies and discuss why they are important for protecting natural resources and ensuring energy security.

  6. Describe the socio-economic impacts of shale energy development.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson are detailed within each lesson. The class schedule is published below.

Required Course Materials

You will be assigned weekly readings that will typically involve some sort of summary write-up or analysis. The materials needed for this course are presented online in Canvas. In order to access all materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the ITS Help Desk.

Weekly Assignments and Grading

The course has 12 lessons of one week each. Four quizzes and two exams will be given for the assessment of learning. There is also a final exam given during the final exam period. In each of the lessons, to achieve the learning outcomes, students will read the material, fill in knowledge-check questions and complete the assigned exercises. There will be a total of 10 exercises. Students will take all their quizzes and exams online during the designated time periods according to the course schedule given below.

This class is geared toward a broad audience to provide a big-picture view of the energy landscape both in the US and abroad. Each week will include completion of an online module for each major topic, along with homework and reading assignments. A mid-term and final exam will be given that covers the material in the online modules along with readings and homework assignments. A final capstone project will provide students the opportunity to pick a shale gas basin, other than the Appalachian Basin, that has been under development for at least several years, and research the a) geology of the basin and shale formation, b) the engineering and environmental challenges of producing gas or oil from the shale formation, and c) the economic, political and social issues and opportunities arising from the exploitation of the shale gas/oil. At the end of the semester, each student will turn in an 8 to 10-page written report on your findings. This activity is designed for students to draw on the knowledge they gain throughout the course. Grades are broken down into the following components:

Breakdown of each assignment's value and requirements.
Component % of Grade Number Description
Homework 30 10 Weekly assignments
Class participation 10 Weekly Be active in class, ask questions, engage with your peers!
Mid-term exam 20 1 Will consist of materials and lectures covered in the first half of the semester
Capstone project 20 1 Each student will submit an 8-10 page report on a shale basin they select
Final exam 20 1 Will consist of materials and lectures covered in the second half of the semester

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages (percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student):

Grade Percent
A 94 – 100%
A- 90 – 93.9%
B+ 87 – 89.9%
B 84 – 86.9%
B- 80 – 83.9%
C+ 77 – 79.9%
C 70 – 76.9%
D 60.0 – 69.9%
F < 60.0%

Geosc 397 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

As the schedule may change, please be sure to check it often! If you have a question about when something is due, ask your instructors!

Course Schedule
Week 1

Lesson 1: Constructive Conversations

Lesson 1 website

No additional readings

Discussion post and reply

Academic Integrity training

Week 2 Lesson 2: Introduction to Energy Sources

Lesson 2 website

EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2018

Lesson 2 Homework
Week 3 Lesson 3: Overview of Geologic Principles

Lesson 3 website
Minerals: Building Blocks of Rocks (in Canvas)

Rocks: Records of Geologic Processes (in Canvas)

Lesson 3 Homework Quiz
Week 4 Lesson 4: Geology of Oil and Gas

Lesson 4 website

Unconventional: Natural Gas Development from Marcellus Shale, Chapter 1

Modern Shale Gas Development in the United State: An Update

Lesson 4 Homework
Week 5 Lesson 5: Shale Energy Exploration, Leasing, and Permitting Lesson 5 website

USGS: Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Devonian Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin Province, 2011

Natural Gas Exploration: A Landowner's Guide to Leasing in Pennsylvania

Turn in paper assigned as Lesson 4 homework
Week 6 Lesson 6: Upstream Operations - Drilling, Hydraulic Fracturing and Production

Lesson 6 website

Chapter 3: Production of Marcellus Shale Gas
Unconventional: Natural Gas Development from Marcellus Shale, Chapter 1

Lesson 6 Homework

Lesson 5 and 6 Quiz

Week 7 Midterm exam
Week 8 Lesson 7: Midstream Infrastructure - Pipelines and Compressor Stations

Lesson 7 website

Understanding Natural Gas Compressor Stations

Landowners Resource Guide for Pipeline Easements and Rights-of-Way

Lesson 7 Homework
Week 9 Lesson 8: Land Use Planning and Design

Lesson 8 website

Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment

Lesson 8 Homework
Week 10 Lesson 9: Environmental Issues - Air, Water, and Land

Lesson 9 website

USGS: Summary of estimated water use in the United States in 2015

Chapter 4-Risks to the Environment from the GSA Special Bulletin

Lesson 9 Homework
Week 11 Lesson 10: Community Impacts

Lesson 10 website

PA state police reassigned to gas drilling region as crime rises

Drilling boom brings surge in crime in small towns

Residents' Perceptions of Community and Environmental Impacts from Development of Natural Gas in the Marcellus Shale: A Comparison of Pennsylvania and New York Cases

Public Responses to Technological Risks: Toward a Sociological Perspective (Optional)

Lesson 10 Homework
Week 12 Lesson 11: Downstream Utilization and Economic Impacts Lesson 11 website
Week 13 Lesson 12: The Future of Shale Energy Lesson 12 website
Week 14 Final exam and Capstone Project

A note about assignments:

If you have a question regarding an activity due at 11:55 one evening, I must receive your question via Canvas Discussion no later than noon, Eastern time on that day. Queries sent after 12:00 noon, Eastern time on the day an assignment is due may not be responded to, so please don't procrastinate!

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.