A Pipeline in Paradise, Part 1: Learning the Relevant Science

Jan 02, 2015
Shannon N. Conley, Kathryn De Ridder-Vignone, Mary K. Handley, Michael L. Deaton

This case study focuses on the people and landscape of Madison County, VA, through which Spectra Energy wishes to route a natural gas pipeline that runs from the Marcellus shale hydraulic fracturing wells in Pennsylvania to Duke Power’s generating plans in North Carolina. The case provides a rich context for students to explore the natural science, political context, and social dynamics associated with hydraulic fracturing and with that community’s decision and power to permit (or not permit) the pipeline.  

The “hook” is a story about a real-life centenarian landowner named Culton Goodall, who owns a beautiful farm on the proposed pipeline route. Mr. Goodall’s family has owned this farm for generations. Their care and love for the land is evident by their progressive and sustainable land use practices. The story opens when Mr. Goodall is visited by a Spectra Energy representative who requests permission to survey the farm and evaluate the feasibility of the pipeline. Students are are introduced to Mr. Goodall, his land, and the beautiful landscape around Madison county via a recorded 8 minute video created by Mr. Goodall’s son, Paul (a faculty member in JMU’s Department of Integrated Science and Technology).  The video ends by posing the question: “What should Mr. Goodall do?”

This is the first part of a larger 3-part case study in which each step guides students through three different types of analyses of this problem. This current case (Part 1) requires students to integrate information across the following five “knowledge domains” to develop a baseline understanding of the problem: (1) technology and natural science, (2) environmental issues, (3) governance, (4) national energy security, and (5) society. Students gain a more complex understanding of the problem by learning how to interpret knowledge from different disciplines, make connections across domains, and evaluate sometimes conflicting perspectives.

Estimated time frame: 
Multi-week unit within course; 3 hrs. for part 1
SES learning goals: 
  • Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
  • Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods
Share: Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Linked Icon