Fracking with Jello

It was Family Science Day with the Society of Petroleum Engineers Young Professionals and Modern Miracle Network

by Jess Sinclair

On Saturday November 25th kids of all ages gathered with their parents at Calgary’s Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association to learn about hydraulic fracturing – in the most fun way possible. What would usually be a fairly technical and dense topic was made entertaining and approachable by, of all things, Jello.

The event saw the Society of Petroleum Engineers Young Professionals Calgary Chapter partnered with the Modern Miracle Network, a group that advocates for a balanced conversation around hydrocarbon use. The overall goal of Family Science Day: Fracking with Jello was to send attendees, young and old, home with a deeper understanding of some of the concepts related to exploration, drilling, completions and production in Canada’s oil and gas industries.

So where did the original idea come from, and why Jello? SPE YP organizer, Laura Weeden, says that she wanted to develop an event that allowed young people to form their own informed ideas about the extraction and production of hydrocarbons in a safe and fun environment. “Jello is safe for everyone to touch, easy to make, you can see through it, and we can compost [it] when we are finished. Largely the biggest reason is to be able to actually see what happens when the maple syrup comes out of the perforations into the “formation” and Jello works so well for that.”

Fostering energy literacy in Canada is critical, considering that our natural resource industries make up such a significant portion of our economy, and that we have the world’s third largest proven oil reserves. But it is a topic that is often bypassed by our formal education system, which is why Weeden has demonstrated a few of the concepts at a recent teachers’ convention, an activity she hopes to replicate in the future.

For this event, the SPE YP volunteers understood they needed to keep things relatively east to digest in order to reach kids as young as seven. There were five stations; Fracturing with Jello; Density; Exploring Porosity; Perforated Well Casing and Core Sampling. These concepts may sound like a lot to swallow for a child under ten, but co-organizer and MMN Operations Director Colleen Potter says that the kids engaged with the material relatively quickly. “The hands-on nature of the stations allowed the kids to understand otherwise complicated ideas like density,” Potter says. “Most walked away wanting to know more about the science behind Canada’s oil and gas industry.”

Both Potter and Weeden believe that one of the core values of the Family Science Day event concept is that it allows kids to get a sense of what their parents do all day at work – many of the adult attendees were engineers, geologists, and others working in the industry. “It was special to see parents demonstrating to their kids that this is what they do at work, or what their company does and help the kids to understand that this science is how their parents are able to provide for them,” says Weeden. This is doubly true for parents who are often on site working away from their families in highly safety-sensitive settings. “It was pretty touching to see the kids step into [their parents’] world a little bit,” says Potter.

Weeden, who heads up a Girl Guide troop, has done a variation on the Fracking with Jello activities with a few of her troop members, who are already in their teenage years. She believes that it is important for young people employed by Canada’s oil and gas industry to educate their peers and the public about the practical aspects of the sector, especially in light of the significant amount of misinformation spread by the industry’s detractors. “I ask about how [the attendees] feel about things like drilling and fracturing and what are the reasons that fuel these opinions,” she says. “The experiments can be adapted to different ages and for different levels of understanding. I personally feel it is important to teach the concepts so that kids can make up their own minds about the science and social impact that all forms of energy have on our planet.”

Want to get hands on with the technology behind Canada’s oil and gas exploration and production? The SPE has a subsidiary called Energy4Me ( which provides resources for teachers and families such as these experiments and many more with explanations and ways to fit this into regular curriculum including science, math and social studies.