We chose to do our presentation on fracking, which is simply drilling into the earth and directing a high-pressured chemical stew of water, sand, and acidizing liquids, at the rock to break it open. Basically, a technique used to recover gas and oil from the shale rock. Unfortunately, fracking is threatening to our environment as well as to people’s health. It contaminates drinking water and causes air pollution. Some examples of fracking that are more recent in the news today would be The Dakota Pipeline, Flint Water Crisis, and The Great Lakes Restoration. In latest news, Trump’s administration slashed the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) budget down from what was originally $300 million dollars to $10 million, which is a total drop of 97%. Which in turn has made fracking a much more common thing, causing our environment and communities to waste away without us even knowing it.
Brief introduction of each theory?
Social contract theory explains that our duties, rights, responsibilities and moral protections come from a passive agreement. Our norms are those that any group of free, rational, and well informed persons would agree to live by. Social contracts play an essential role in determining the obligations between the government and its citizens. So, basically, our government is responsible for our safety.
And so the question is, what principle would free, rational, and well informed contractors use to guide society? We can determine this using a thought experiment of Rawls’ called the veil of ignorance, which is a hypothetical that has us imagine what kinds of decisions our leaders would make in a society which all people have equal rights and responsibilities. However, they would be ignorant of specific concepts of themselves; any contingent features.
Contingent features are things that could have been otherwise, any accidental features of ourselves, like gender, race, sexual orientation, class position, religious affiliation, and so forth. All things that could change the way we think or create any bias about what this free society should look like. Think about the rationale of a person in general, minus these contingent features. These are what our leaders would be behind the veil of ignorance.
But, you know, it’s only hypothetical. There is no such person who is free, and rational, and well informed. There are limitations to information, restrictions based on status, biases, and other contingent factors which can never truly be eliminated. But, if we recognize that we have them, we can correct them, and over time, people can then learn from these mistakes. The point of this thought experiment is to produce a realization in ourselves to be fair, empathetic to others, and to try and move past our biases to make a society that is equal for everyone.
As the consequences of fracking are becoming more apparent, we have to transform our social arrangements to improve the wellbeing of the people of today and of future generations. Using Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” thought experiment, our contractors would not disregard the impact fracking has on our environment; it is a dangerous method of extracting resources from the earth.
Over 1000 cases of contamination have been reported. In Michigan alone we have 857 disposal wells for frack waste, which are dumpsites for some of the nation’s most toxic waste. These are not stored in safe containers, simply injected into the wells, which are prone to leak. 14 billion gallons of toxic wastewater was produced in the year 2014 alone. It is taxing on our environment and risks the health of animals and humans alike. Our contractors should impose a ban on fracking because it is their responsibility to do so.
From the impact of the Flint water crisis, fracking and its procedures can also be seen as unethical, from a consequentialist point of view, due to their consequences. Fracking is an unsafe and a heavily consuming practice, which only enables our current dependence on fossil fuels as well as disregarding the health of humans and the environment. A direct example of a recent consequence that was due to fracking is the Flint water crisis. The Flint water crisis was a devastating occurrence that could have been easily avoided if fracking was seen as an unethical method to extract fossil fuels and was banned. A a direct consequence, many people who were affected by this crisis did not have access to sanitary water in their own homes and were exposed to the following chemicals: Methanol; which is suspected to cause birth defects, Petroleum distillates; which can irritate the throat, lungs and eyes, and cause dizziness and nausea, Benzene; a cancer-causing chemical which evaporates easily creating risk of inhalation, Formaldehyde; a carcinogen which may increase the risk of asthma, Ethylene glycol; linked to heart, respiratory and kidney damage, and other damaging afflictions, Sodium hydroxide; a highly corrosive chemical, if exposed to an undiluted spill.
The incident is a result of the government switching water authorities in Flint from Detroit to the Flint River. The water was made toxic from corrosive pipes, and wastewater/ chemicals spills, made in part by, as you said (to Mason) the consequences of fracking. The people of Flint have been suffering for three years now because of the unethical decisions and inaction by our government.
And race and poverty played a significant role in the lack of action to combat the problem. Flint’s population is predominately African American and roughly 40% of the population is poor. These factored into why Flint wasn’t protected and why it’s taking so long for the situation to be remedied. Three years later, it’s still in the process of being resolved. Without a doubt, race and economic status of the peoples of Flint has affected the decisions made and the response time, and these are contingent factors which would play no role in the policy and decision making of a society using the concepts of social contract theory. Actually, those worst off amongst us–the poor, the sick–would be prioritized. And so we can determine that our leaders are not meeting the obligations they have for their citizens.
Consequentialism states that the morality of an action is to be judged solely by its consequences. With the Flint water crisis all of Michigan knows the consequences that followed this immoral action. A common consequentialist outlook would be to do as much good as you can, which is the opposite of what the results of fracking contain. Secondly, with consequentialism, especially with this situation, one has to take into account the expected results compared to the actual results of the situation. Along with this topic one must also consider the actions as well as the Intentions behind the actual result. In this case the actual result was the contamination of Flint’s whole water system. Although, the people who devised what the expected result of fracking near Flint’s water system should have been, they probably had no intention of causing so much devastation. Unfortunately, the expected result was nowhere near what the actual result would eventually become, and there were too many negative consequences, that negatively affected too many people for these results to be justified.
Moving forward, we can develop dozens of different versions of consequentialism, depending on which things we regard as intrinsically valuable, in this case due to all the toxins infecting the water, human well-being and the environment is to be considered as intrinsically
valuable. To go along with that Consequentialism also says that an action is morally required just because it produces the best overall results, which can be seen as the optimific action. A more precise definition of the Optimific action is one that yields the greatest balance of benefits over drawbacks is the one that morality requires. Due to these detrimental consequences, of this action (fracking), it can be concluded, from a consequentialist point of view, that the Flint water crisis was caused by miscalculated expected result and followed through with a less than optimific action. In this case, it can also be seen that the opposite of the optimific action was fracking. Additionally, the negative consequences that followed were direct results of the fracking and its procedures. Finally, because of all the people that were affected by the consequences of this action is the first reason why fracking is unethical, and fracking should be banned.
If we take a look at fracking from a utilitarian point of view, we see that the benefits of fracking are mostly reserved for the powerful elite who monopolize these operations. Hence, this is what leads to situations like the Flint water crisis.
According to act utilitarianism and the principle of utility, an action is morally required when it does more to improve the wellbeing of others and generate overall prosperity among the group. Essentially, we are required to make actions that benefit the entirety of the population we are a part of, and consider not only our own well being, but the wellness and happiness of the entire group.
Although you might say that fracking does benefit the group by producing large amounts of oil and natural gas for everyone to use, those who control these operations don’t intend for it to be that way.
When large companies take control of fracking, their interests are focused on how to get rich, not what they can do to supply resources for the community.
They don’t follow the law of impartiality set by utilitarianism, which states that everyone’s interests count equally. Business tycoons and politicians involved in fracking care more for the money in your pocket than whether or not you have clean drinking water or feel safe in your own community.
As we touched on earlier, the Flint water crisis is partially a consequence of fracking. And while we can put the blame on the moral standings of the companies that are involved with fracking processes, we must hold those responsible accountable.
To allow an entire community to be poisoned for the sake of monetary gain would be an act of using them as a means to an end.
In regards to Kantian Ethics, Kant would look at fracking from 3 perspectives. If it can be accepted my everyone, if it does not take advantage of anyone, and if it will be accepted from every perspective, not just the people performing the action – in this case fracking.
A good example would be the Dakota Pipeline. For a quick review of what that actually is… there were contractors wanting to drill on an Indian reservation. But the Indians refused to let them do it, and because they owned the land, they believed the contractors wouldn’t get the chance. The results of the pipeline would leave them homeless and force them to leave their home of hundreds of years. They also were concerned that if the pipeline was to burst it would pollute their lake, leaving them with no drinking water. To an amazing surprise, they protested and petitioned and actually won against the government! Unfortunately, their victory was short lived, after Trump was inaugurated and made the decision to overturn their win and let contractors begin drilling ASAP.
In reference to Kantian Ethics, the entire situation with the Dakota Pipeline would be classified as unethical. It’s people in power, abusing their power to take over a community of people to make money and potentially do harm, without any care of the consequences. They don’t take into account whether or not everyone could act in the same way they do, because if they did they would understand that the fracking would get completely out of hand, polluting every body of water around us. The next formulation states to never use a man as a mean, which simply emulates human dignity. Which is obviously completely taken advantage of because these Indians will be forced to leave their reservation, either by the government, or by the lack of clean drinking water and dying land. Lastly, the formulation that describes a maxim being accepted only when it is accepted by every perspective. In the case with the Dakota Pipeline, the men in power who were doing the drilling, took no care the perspective of the natives on the reservation. They went above their heads, repealed and still ended up drilling on their ground. As a result of the pipeline being built, there already are results of oil leaking into the lakes, leaving the fish and animal life grasping for life. Which in turn forces the natives to move because they can no longer survive on such an environment.
In conclusion, there are many severe environmental and health related risks that arise with fracking. To establish the ethical implications more personally, there is a new fracking incident becoming a larger problem than anticipated involving the Great Lakes. Starting in the Upper Peninsula, a large amount of oil is being leaked into the Great Lakes, affecting the many aquatic creatures and leaving a carbon footprint for everyone to swim in.
From all the connections of the ethical theories to issues like the Flint water crisis and the Dakota pipeline that were previously discussed, we can conclude that fracking causes negative effects and consequences. There have been major health and environmental concerns from fracking and its procedures, leads us to the consensus that fracking is unethical. It is essential to put forth efforts to stop it and find alternative methods of obtaining energy sources that can be both ethical and logical.
We encourage you to take action and get educated on fracking and the negative effects that it has and prevent this from happening in an area near you.