High school team part of Penn State Marcellus Shale water monitoring research

A group of State College Area High School students is joining the ranks of scientists and volunteers who are monitoring waterways where natural gas drilling is taking place in an effort to track any changes in water quality.

The students, part of TeenShale Network, were at Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute recently to get lessons in a computer program that allows researchers to enter, track and access all of the data that comes from water quality testing being done at Marcellus Shale sites. The students’ work is part of ShaleNetwork, a collaborative effort by researchers from Penn State and other institutions to collect data on water quality in the shale gas drilling regions.

The data the scientists at those institutions and volunteer groups gather in the field, along with reports from government agencies, are entered into the online ShaleNetwork database, which makes it available online in one place. Over time, this will allow researchers to monitor whether gas drilling has any impact on water quality in the areas being monitored.

To help with that project, the State High students and learning enrichment teacher Nell Herrmann got lessons on using HydroDesktop software from Jon Pollak, with CUASHI – Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, a nonprofit that is part of the ShaleNetwork; and Sue Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences at Penn State and a founder of ShaleNetwork.

Herrmann explained that the high school team is entering data collected by advanced placement environmental science teacher Tom Kozikowski and his students at Mountain Ridge High School in Frostburg, Md. Kozikowski’s students are collecting pre-hydraulic fracturing water quality data once a month from six sites in the vicinity of their high school, including at the Piney Run Reservoir, which is a half-mile from a proposed gas fracking site.

Once entered, all that data is available for researchers, community planners and anyone who wants to monitor the quality of water being tested for elements such as bromide, strontium or barium, good indicators of natural gas drilling.

Brantley said the work the students are doing not only lets them learn about the science behind gas drilling and water quality and the computer software used to track the data, it's also extremely valuable to the ShaleNetwork and researchers interested in water quality in the Marcellus Shale region. The ShaleNetwork already has brought together hundreds of data sources.

"Because we have so much data, we really need help putting the data online and assessing it to quantify changes and see how they compare with drilling activity," Brantley said.

The project receives funding from the National Science Foundation. To learn more, go to: www.shalenetwork.org.

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Last Updated February 28, 2013