State High students learn about fracking, water quality in the field

RUSH TOWNSHIP — Marcellus Shale water quality monitoring is getting some help from a group of State College Area High School students who climbed through snow and waded into icy waters recently to take measurements and collect stream samples.

Called Teen Shale Network, the team of about 16 students and their teachers are part of Shale Network, an ongoing research initiative by the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State and other institutions. Through Shale Network, professional and citizen scientists are collecting and collating data on water quality in regions where deep hydraulic fracturing is taking place.

“Any time that high school students get out into the field to do real science and see the importance of doing it right is great,” said Gene Ruocchio, an earth systems science teacher at State High. “It’s cool and it’s actual science.”

In fall 2013, the Teen Shale team picked out the spot in Black Moshannon State Park for background water quality monitoring. EESI researchers installed a sensor that continuously collects data at that location in January. Now, with training from those researchers, the team of students has begun collecting water samples and measuring the flow of the stream water. The data being collected include temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity. The samples will be chemically analyzed.

“The only way for people to monitor the water they drink is to go out and sample streams and ground water, which allows us to look for contaminants downstream,” said Susan Brantley, distinguished professor of geosciences and director of EESI at Penn State. “The sampling the high school students are doing will help with those ongoing data assessments.”

For more information about the Shale Network, go to

Last Updated February 24, 2014