Skip main navigation

‘Explore’ an application of science in an interdisciplinary way

An article that describes what fracking is and outlines what considerations there need to be when decisions about fracking are made.

Each Science Beyond the Boundaries teaching unit takes a look at one contemporary issue surrounding an application of science. This article explores how one issue can be taught using an interdisciplinary approach.


From a traditional science perspective, fracking might be described mainly in terms of what it is and how it works.

What fracking is

Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a method for extracting previously inaccessible oil and natural gas from shale. Fracking involves drilling into layers of rock and injecting highly pressurised fluid to release the fossil fuel. The fluid contains water, sand, acid, friction reducer, surfactant, salts, scale-inhibitor, pH-adjusting agent, corrosion inhibitor and biocides.

Potential risks of fracking

Fracking requires large volumes of water, and produces wastewater containing metals, oils and greases, and bromides and sulfates. There is a potential risk that hazardous chemicals are released into the environment, and a chance of some seismic activity.
Also, the burning of the fossil fuels extracted adds to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – contributing to climate change.

Descision making about fracking

Amongst those living near fracking sites and beyond there is a widespread opposition to fracking. The description of fracking and of how it works may be seen as far less important than the consequences on their lives.

In England, planning decisions about whether or not to allow fracking are made at a local level. However, the national government has intervened when they perceive the decision taken at a local level to go against the national interest. This has resulted in decisions being imposed on communities near fracking sites that have adverse effects on the local inhabitants.

These decisions are political, and they can be made because of the political systems and laws that are in place. The way that decisions are made also raise philosophical questions about what the national interest is, who benefits from it and whether or not it should be the national interest that trumps all other stakeholders.

Other factors also influence decision making. Considerations include: energy security; the climate emergency; local autonomy and freedom; human rights; risk of pollution; impact on transport and infrastructure; impact on local geology and aquifers; job opportunities; and the list goes on.

Science is necessary but not sufficient to understand fracking. Geography, geology, politics and economics are also needed.

Teaching fracking

When teaching this topic, science teachers are likely to consider and discuss some of the pros and cons of fracking with their students.

Interdisciplinary teaching opens up the possibility to discuss science in the context of these broader considerations, and to use science to inform and help to define the debate.

Over to you

  • Do you think that fracking, as an example, should ever be taught from a purely scientific perspective?
  • What sort of understanding should policy makers have before making decisions about fracking?

Please share your thoughts with fellow learners in the Comments.

© University of York
This article is from the free online

STEM Teaching: Teaching Science Beyond The Boundaries

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now