Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Activity: Where are the Shale Plays?

Grade Level:

Activity Overview: Natural resources are not evenly distributed across the United States or even across the State of Texas. Looking at the horizon you can see if you are near the sea or surrounded by timber, but other resources crucial to our daily lives are less obvious. Each of the activities on this page references a different resource and provides resources your class can use to identify different sources of freshwater, fossil fuels, and renewable resources.

Time: This activity is part of a series on maps of natural resources. Each one takes about 15 minutes. You can schedule them in series or you can evaluate them as you discuss each resource in your class.


The most important form of unconventional gas is that produced from shale formations. Shale formations rich with oil and gas are distributed globally although many reserves remain unmapped. Abundant resources lie under the United States and Canada, as well as most of South America, Northern Africa, Europe, Australia, and China. Notably, the Middle East lacks shale formations although rich with conventional oil and gas. While shale gas is a global resource, the United States dominates shale gas production. The Barnett Shale in North Texas is the first shale tapped on a large scale using modern production techniques, mostly for natural gas starting in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Subsequently, production grew in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the Haynesville Shale in East Texas, the Permian Shale in West Texas, the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York.

The US Energy Information Administration publishes maps based on aggregated data from oil and gas production, including unconventional production across the country and around the world. They have dozens of maps available in a collection of Oil and Gas Exploration, Resources, and Production.

The map linked below shows a summary of shale plays in the lower 48 states as of 2016.

Lower 48 States Shale Plays

Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • In which states are current shale plays found? (orange color) [California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee]
  • What are the names of the prospective plays listed on this map? (red color) [Cody, Heath, Bend, Tuscaloosa, Floyd-Neal, Floyd-Chattanooga, Chattanooga]
  • What shale play lies around San Antonio and extends into the Rio Grande Valley? [Eagle Ford]
  • How does the map describe the Bakken Shale Play? [intermediate depth/age stacked play, mixed shale and dolostone-siltstone-sandstone play]
  • Which states do not have unconventional basins? [answers may vary, but research does not indicate unconventional basins under Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine]


SS.6.6B, SS.6.3C

Watt Watchers of Texas is a Partner Program of Smart Energy Education.
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