Living With Fracking in Albania

The Students: Samuel Darer ’24, Sara Frunzi ’24, and Alexandria Sheehan ’24, who won first place in the 2024 President’s Interactive Qualifying Project Awards for their project “Living with Fracking: Women’s Narratives from Zharrëz, Albania.”

The Advisors: Instructor Robert Hersh and Assistant Professor Leslie Dodson


From the final report’s executive summary: “Zharrëz, Albania, is home to Europe’s largest onshore oil fields. Bankers Petroleum has invested heavily in the modernization of existing oil infrastructure, introducing fracking to the oil field in 2006. Fracking is an underground drilling process to extract hydrocarbons, such as crude oil and natural gas. Its process begins with vertical or angled drilling of a well more than 5,000 feet underground to the layer of gas-rich shale. Once the well reaches the hard shale rock where hydrocarbons are trapped, horizontal drilling begins and can extend for miles. When this is complete, a perforated gun loaded with explosive charge is sent into the horizontal portion of the well to create small holes in the casing (Denchak, 2022). Fracking fluid—a mixture of water, sand, and other chemicals including methanol, ethylene glycol, and propargyl alcohol—is then injected into the well under extremely high pressure to create fractures in the shale rock formations. The chemicals in fracking fluid are considered hazardous to human health (Denchak, 2022).”

The Methodology:

For this IQP, which was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme in Albania, economic science major Sheehan, chemistry major Darer, and mechanical engineering major Frunzi interviewed women who live near the largest onshore oil field in Europe. The students, who worked out of the Tirana, Albania, Project Center, focused on the women’s own experiences to help describe the impact of oil fracking on the quality of life in the region. The women painted a bleak picture of a region where water is unusable, air pollution makes residents feel sick, the land is visibly contaminated from oil deposit wells, agriculture has been hindered, and compensation for damage to homes caused by fracking-induced seismic activity has been inadequate.

Sheehan says she and her teammates were focused on their research and the women who entrusted them to share their stories. “We felt it was our duty to put ourselves as close to ‘in their shoes’ as possible,” Sheehan says. “We were greeted with grace, warmth, and welcoming. Our part was to amplify their voices.”

The Outcome:

Given this powerful experience and the compelling narratives of the women, the students wanted others to have the same research tools to apply to future disaster risk management planning. They created a narrative elicitation guidebook detailing the activities they developed and produced a synopsis of the frameworks they utilized. The IQP team also produced a multimedia exhibition of the women’s stories including photos, quotes, and narratives.

“The sponsor was very impressed with the participatory methods the students used to obtain life stories from the women of Zharrëz,” Hersh says. “The sponsor will use some of these methods going forward. Also, the students established a wonderful rapport with the women they interviewed, and this was clear during the final presentation in Albania, which the women attended.”

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