Teach Your Campers About Fracking

Why Teach Your Campers About Fracking?

A natural gas rush is underway in the Poconos and Catskills, home to many Jewish camps.  This is a great opportunity to learn and teach about caring for ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth.

  • Hydraulic fracturing (also known as hydrofracking or fracking,) is a form of drilling for natural gas.  Natural gas is burned to create electricity and to heat our homes.
  • There is a great deal of gas, accessible only by fracking, in the Marcellus Shale – the geological formation under the Poconos and Catskills.
  • Fracking uses vast amounts of water – 1-9 million gallons each time a well is fracked – along with dangerous chemicals.
  • There is an active movement to regulate, suspend, or ban, fracking in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and other states.

The Forward published an article about 4 Jewish camps that have leased their land for fracking.  The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which includes most major Jewish organizations, has passed a policy statement expressing serious concerns about fracking.

Get Started

A great way to get started is to learn more yourself and educate other counselors.  Watch a video on YouTube or a documentary about fracking such as Gasland or Dear Governor Cuomo.  Ask other counselors what they know, or would like to learn, about fracking.  If you would like to show a movie and have a speaker come to camp, contact Joe Varon, jvaron613@aol.com.

Bringing the Topic of Fracking to Campers

Before you introduce any of these activities, make sure you are familiar with the issues and are prepared to answer questions.  This is a complex issue and there are different opinions about what we should do.  While some people want fracking banned, others believe that it has benefits, and that with proper regulation and monitoring it can be done safely.  (Read Should Fracking Stop: Point Counterpoint for a good summary of these positions.)  And remember the goal is not to scare campers.  The goal is to get them thinking and to empower them to participate in important decisions that will impact their future.

Take Action

If your campers want to take action, there are many things you can do.

  • Older campers can plan a program to share what they have learned with another bunk.
  • Write articles for the camp newspaper or make a display about fracking for the dining room.
  • Campers can write letters to policymakers.  In NY, write to Governor Cuomo.  In PA, write to Governor Corbett.   You can also make signs and take pictures of yourselves with the signs to include with the letters.   Jonah Adels, a counselor at Eden Village Camp, took campers to Albany where they met with Governor Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Energy.
  • Meet with your camp director and board of directors to educate them about fracking.  Find out if your camp is in an area which has natural gas, and whether or not your camp has been offered a lease by a gas company.


 1) A Precious Drop of Water

 Objective:  Recognize the value of water that could be contaminated by fracking.

Materials: 1 liter of colored drink, 5 clear cups, measuring tools (graduated cyclinder in milliliters and eye-dropper, or spoon), salt

Introduction:  Discuss what the campers know about water.  Where do we get our water from?  List natural sources of water: oceans, groundwater, lakes, ice, swamps, rivers.  Explain that one of the reasons people are concerned about fracking is that each time a well is fracked it uses 1-9 million gallons of water.  (A summer camp uses about 55 gallons per person, per day.)  Chemicals are mixed with the water that is injected into the well to break up the shale rock – some of this water remains underground and some is recovered.  It may or may not be properly treated to remove contaminants.

Activity: Explain that the liter of liquid represents all the water in the world.  Divide the campers into 6 groups and explain each group will have one source of water for all their needs.  Let them choose which one they want and guess how much water they will get.  Measure out the liquid into cups:  Ice 20.6 mL (roughly 2 tablespoons); groundwater 9.0 mL; lakes 0.08 mL; swamps 0.01 mL (roughly 5 drops); rivers 0.002 mL (roughly 1 drop).  Last group gets the rest of the drink representing the oceans 970 mL.  Before you give this group the remaining water, congratulate them on getting the largest source and then dump the salt into it, explaining that they won’t be able to drink it. Explain that only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater.  Tell the groups they can drink the water, but first they need to decide how they will divide it among themselves.  Say the blessing for drinking water together (she-ha-kol ni-hiyeh b’dvaro.)

Debrief:  Discuss what they learned about water.  Why is there a blessing for water?   Explain the basics of fracking.  Is fracking a good use of water?  Where does your camp’s water come from?  What does your camp do to make sure it stays clean?  If you don’t know, how can you find out?

Source:  http://www.calacademy.org/teachers/resources/lessons/earths-water-a-drop-in-your-cup/

2) Drilling Disaster

 Objective: Learn about some of the consequences associated with fracking and extraction of all fossil fuels.

Materials: Chocolate chip cookies, toothpicks, plates or napkins

Introduction:  Discuss what the campers know about energy.  Where do we get it from?  From fossil fuels including gas.  How do we get it?  Discuss extraction, conversion to electricity, distribution, and use.

Activity: Tell the campers they are going to become frackers.  They will receive a cookie which represents a parcel of land to be fracked.  Their job is to extract the gas (chips) as carefully as possible.  After a few minutes, ask them to describe what happened to the cookies, and why.  Before you continue the discussion, stop to eat the cookies, saying the blessing first (mi-nei m-zone-ot).

Debrief:  Discuss what happened to the cookie.  Discuss what happens to the land, air and water in fracking.  What is the alternative?  Discuss the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

Source: http://www.calacademy.org/teachers/resources/lessons/fossil-fuels-facing-the-issues/

3) Exploring the Ethics of Fracking

 Objective:  Consider how fracking effects different people.

Introduction:  Discuss that the campers know about energy.  Where do we get it from?  Explain the basics of fracking.  Make a list of all of the people who are involved from the people who own the land, to the workers, to the consumers.

Activity:  Divide into groups and give each group a Jewish text.  Ask them to discuss how this text might inform what we should do about fracking.  After they discuss it, ask them to create a 30 second “commercial” or “public service announcement” that teaches the moral lesson of this text.  It should include reading the text, the moral of the text, and practical suggestions of how to put the moral into action according to the text.

“One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.” Rabbi Isaac b. Sheshet, Resp. 196, 14thC

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet (fence) for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.”  Deuteronomy 22:8

“Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor…Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Leviticus 19:16, 19:18

Debrief:  Was it easy or hard to apply these teachings to fracking?  What should we do when some people will benefit from fracking and some will be harmed?  What is our responsibility as people who are consumers of energy?  What can we do individually and as a society to minimize harm from fracking?

Source:  Adapted from NoamDolgin.com

 Music:  Natalie Merchant sings about fracking:  I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister; Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Friends:  Don’t Frack My Mother; The Fracking Song explains the issue with a rap video; Sweet Water by Anna Huckabee Tull is a song of gratitude for water.  And of course, U’Shavtem Mayim is a great song to open a discussion about how water is valued so highly in Jewish tradition.