Lesson Plan

Fossil Fuel Extraction and the Environment


In this lesson, students investigate the extraction methods of fossil fuels from the Earth’s surface. Students will:

  • analyze text selections explaining fossil fuel extraction methods.

  • link possible environmental impacts to fossil fuel extraction methods.

  • apply the concept of permeability in analyzing a petroleum trap.

Essential Questions


  • Auger mining: The removal of coal by giant drills (augers), usually at the base of an open-pit excavation.

  • Cap rock: An impermeable rock layer that does not allow petroleum to move through it.

  • Impermeability: Property of not allowing fluids to flow through.

  • Longwall mining: A form of underground coal mining where a long wall of coal is mined in a single slice and placed onto a conveyor belt.

  • Open-pit mining: Surface mining of coal in which overlying rocks are removed to expose coal for extraction.

  • Permeability: The measure of how easily fluid can flow through a rock.

  • Porosity: The measure of the amount of space in between the particles that make up a rock.

  • Reservoir: A rock layer that holds petroleum.

  • Room-and-pillar mining: Large “rooms” of coal are extracted from underground, leaving some of the coal behind as “pillars” to hold up the overlying rocks.


90 minutes

Prerequisite Skills

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Formative Assessment

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    • Students’ ability to compare mining methods, efficiency, and environmental impacts will be assessed generally through group discussion and formally through worksheets they hand in.

    • Use the Evaluate and Explain worksheet to assess students’ ability to analyze a graphical representation of a mine and apply it to related questions.

    • Collect student worksheets for individual assessment.

Suggested Instructional Supports

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    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction

    Students investigate the extraction of oil, gas, and coal and the environmental concerns associated with the extraction.


    Students interpret and discuss coal mining and oil derrick graphics to activate prior knowledge.


    Students read and analyze text selections that explain some of the fossil fuel extraction methods.


    Students link fossil fuel extraction to environmental impacts through class discussion.


    Students apply the property of impermeability in analyzing a graphic and explaining the relationship between a petroleum reservoir and its cap rock.


    Students participate in class discussions in order to activate prior knowledge, share points of view, and pose questions. They work in groups to encourage individual participation within their comfort zone, to allow practice using scientific academic language, and to problem solve. Students work independently to allow individual processing of lesson concepts.


    In this lesson, students investigate extraction methods of fossil fuels and the impact of these methods on the environment. They begin the lesson by interpreting and discussing coal mining and oil derrick graphics to activate prior knowledge and to build a context for subsequent lesson investigations. Students then read and analyze text selections that explain some of the methods used for the extraction of fossil fuels from the Earth’s surface and explore the impact that these processes may have on the environment. To close the lesson, students analyze a sketch of a petroleum trap, identify the cap rock and the reservoir in the sketch, and explain how they differentiated between the cap rock and the reservoir.

Instructional Procedures

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    Today we’re going to investigate how fossil fuels are extracted from the Earth’s surface and some of the environmental concerns related to the extraction processes.”

    Distribute copies of the Methods of Mining Diagram and the Oil Derrick cards (S-6-2-3_Methods of Mining Diagram.doc). Facilitate a short class discussion to assess and activate student prior knowledge of coal mining and drilling for crude oil and natural gas.

    Group students. Distribute copies of the Coal Mining Group Materials (S-6-2-3_Coal Mining Group Materials.doc). Read and discuss the How Is Coal Mined? selection with the class, calling attention to the diagram and pictures that illustrate the text. Provide each student with the Coal Mining Methods worksheet (S-6-2-3_ Mining Methods Worksheet.doc). “The coal mining methods outline is a graphic organizer of the information we just discussed about coal mining methods. Place the characteristics from the page titled Characteristics for Coal Mining (2nd page) appropriately on the graphic organizer. You may use the selection, How Is Coal Mined?, as a reference.” Monitor students and give feedback.

    Distribute copies of the article Where Do You Find Oil and Gas? (S-6-2-3_ Where Do You Find Oil and Gas Worksheet and KEY.doc). Read and discuss the selection with the class. “So the oil and/or gas accumulate in reservoirs in the Earth’s surface. Oil and gas companies find these reservoirs and drill holes down into them. Then the companies extract the oil and/or gas for our use.” Distribute the Oil and Gas Drilling worksheet (S-6-2-3_ Finding Oil and Gas.doc). Monitor students, providing feedback, as they complete the questions.

    Continue the lesson discussing environmental concerns. “Environmental laws and new technologies have greatly reduced the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel production. What do you think are some possible negative environmental effects of fossil fuel production if proper care is not taken?”Facilitate a short class discussion about the possible negative impacts that fossil fuel production may have on the environment. Post student ideas on the board. Instruct students to take notes. A general list is given in the table below http://www.earthworksaction.org/oilgaspollution.cfm and http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_environment


    Water Pollution

    Air Pollution

    Soil Pollution

    • Chemicals may possibly enter drinking water supplies.

    • Storm water runoff may wash sediment and chemicals into rivers and streams nearby.

    • Storage and disposal of drilling and production wastes in pits can contaminate ground and surface waters.

    • Acidic water may drain from abandoned coal mines.
    • Production equipment like trucks, drilling rigs, and pumps emit exhaust from diesel fuels.

    • Some of the well gases may be released into the air.

    • Some of the gas considered uneconomical to sell may be burned, releasing pollutants into the air.

    • Unplanned leaks of gases may occur from small breaks or cracks in things like pipelines or tubing and from loose lids and caps on tanks or equipment.
    • Oil and gas industry wastes may cause soil pollution that prevents the growth of vegetation.

    • Salty water from the well may be spilled, which may kill vegetation and sterilize soils.

    • Contaminants in the soil may enter the groundwater.

    • Open-pit mining strips away rock and soil from the surface.

    Ungroup students. Distribute the Evaluate and Explain Worksheet (S-6-2-3_ Evaluate and Explain Worksheet and KEY.doc). Read the item with students. Give added instructions or clarifications before students begin. Monitor student progress and give feedback.


    • A strategy for students who might need opportunities for additional learning is to provide students with graphic representations as visual cues. Students verbally compare and contrast different coal mining methods.

    • An activity for students who may be going beyond the standards is to have students investigate nuclear power in the United States in order to participate in a debate over the hypothetical construction of a nuclear reactor to meet their local community’s energy needs. Information can be found at http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=nuclear_home.

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DRAFT 11/17/2010
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