Fracking Podcast Script
Trycia: “Hey guys, thanks for tuning in to the PHI 325 discussion group, where we like to look at the world through an ethical retical.
We’re here with my fellow ethical professionals, Rendell Stiles, Joshua Brown, and Mason Bialik here to talk about fracking and how it relates to Social Contract Theory, Consequentialism, Utilitarianism, and Kantian Ethics. Our goal today is to teach you about the ethical concerns surrounding FRACKING, and why you should question its practice.
To give you a brief background on what fracking is, it can be defined as 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 recent fracking crises that are more popularized in the news would be The Dakota Pipeline, Flint Water Crisis, and The Great Lakes Restoration.
Also, a recent decision by Trump and his administration has slashed the Environmental Protection Agencies budget down from what was originally $300 million dollars to only $10 million. That is a total drop of 97%, which in turn has made fracking much more common, causing damage to our environment and communities without even realizing it.
Mason: Imagine not being able to trust that the water provided in your home is safe to drink. Imagine our county and national parks being closed to the public because the air is no longer safe to breathe. And the surrounding wildlife has disappeared. This new world may seem a little far-fetched to you, but it is far from impossible. To a degree, it’s a reality that’s already been faced in our country, from dangerous chemicals seeping into the rivers and waterbeds which people rely on for freshwater. Today I’d like to propose to you a ban on fracking. By the end of this podcast, we’d like to persuade you to give support for stopping the oil and gas industry from fracking in Michigan. Fracking has been occurring in Michigan since 1952 and activity has been on the rise in recent years.
Rendell: Hey listeners, I’m Rendell and I’m an expert on Social Contract Theory. So, for the listeners who aren’t familiar with social contract theory, it 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.
Josh: And so the question is, what principle would free, rational, and well informed contractors use to guide society?
Rendell: That’s a great question! 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.
These 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.
Mason: How does this relate to fracking, Rendell?
Rendell: Well, 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 all life on earth. Our contractors should impose a ban on fracking because it is their responsibility to do so.
Trycia: Wow that’s pretty crazy! Speaking of water contamination, Mason, I’ve heard a lot about the Flint Water crisis, what can you tell me about that?
Mason: Well Trycia, from the impact of the Flint water crisis, fracking and its procedures can also be seen as unethical, 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. As a direct consequence, many people who were affected by this crisis did not have access to sanitary water in their own homes as well as having been 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, and Sodium hydroxide; a highly corrosive chemical, if exposed to an undiluted spills.
Rendell: That’s right. 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, 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.
Josh: Yeah that’s right! This whole situation started in 2014, and it’s 2017 now. You’d think they would have made better attempts to fix it in the whole three years its been. Its not like Flint residents can really do anything about it either, not when the city is already struggling with issues of crime and poverty.
Rendell: Definitely. 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.
Mason: I agree Rendell, continuing on a similar topic, the second ethical theory that can offer ethical insight to the Flint water crisis is consequentialism. 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.
Josh: So referring to consequentialism, would fracking be seen as intrinsically valuable?
Mason: No, not in this case, solely due to the negative effects of the procedure’s consequences on the people and the environment in the surrounding area.
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), 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.
Rendell: This relates to the utilitarian point of view, right Josh?
Josh: Exactly. To give you a quick background on what Utilitarianism is, we basically need to make choices that benefit the entire group. Utilitarianism tells us to act according to what generates the most benefit to the whole community. Essentially we’re required to not only think for ourselves, but also think “what’s gonna be best for the whole group?”
So if we were to relate utilitarianism back to fracking, we would see that not only are there negative consequences to it, but the benefit that is received from it is not for the entire group. Those who benefit from fracking are mostly the powerful and wealthy elites who control these operations.
Trycia: So what about the energy produced from it? Many people still get their power from fracking. Would you classify that as a benefit at all?
Josh: Yeah I mean you’re right, many people do get a lot of their energy from fracking. But the thing is that it’s still at a cost, and the wealthy elites that control fracking know that they can charge people large amounts of money for it. If their goal was to distribute energy for the sake of the community, they wouldn’t feel the need to monopolize the fracking industry. Their task is to simply produce for the sake of getting your money, not for anyone’s personal benefit.
This is what lead to the whole situation of the Flint water crisis.
As you guys touched on before, the crisis started when the City of Flint switched from the Detroit water system to using the water in the Flint River.
There was no reason to do this other than to cut corners and save money. It was an unethical decision because there was no care as to the quality of the water or how it would affect the residents. It was just a way to save money. They care more for the money in your pocket rather than whether or not you have safe drinking water.
These tycoons don’t follow the law of impartiality set my utilitarianism, which states that everyone’s interests count equally.
And while we can put the blame on the moral ethics of those responsible, we don’t normally do that. These situations get called “accidents” even though they could be avoided if the concerns of others are thought about in the way that they should be.
We can’t continue to make these kinds of mistakes and not hold the morally unethical responsible. Nobody should be used as a means to an end.
Trycia: Speaking of using people as a means to an end, it also defies Kantian Ethics. Which can be explained as a categorical imperative – a command that is unconditional or second-hand nature, because of someone’s inner morality. Kant would look at fracking from 3 perspectives. If it can be accepted by 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 for this theory would be the Dakota Pipeline.
Mason: Could you give a little bit more in depth of an analysis, Trycia.
Trycia: Sure! For a quick review of what that actually is… there were contractors wanting to drill on an Native American Reservation. But the Natives 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.
Rendell: That’s terrible! And there are many severe environmental and health related risks that arise with fracking.
Trycia: Tell me about it. On a more personal note regarding us GVlakers, there is a new fracking incident becoming a larger problem than anticipated involving the Great Lakes. Starting in the Upper Peninsula, a large oil company based in Canada wants to put in a oil line so that they can receive their oil faster. If the line was to burst, oil would be leaked into the Great Lakes, affecting the many aquatic creatures and leaving a carbon footprint for everyone to swim in. It will become a much larger problem soon, if nobody protests the unethical maxim referred to as FRACKING.
Mason: I remember hearing something about that! A Republican rebutted the oil line by saying “This is about fulfilling my constitutional duty as a senator to protect our greatest natural resource, the Great Lakes. Roughly 40 million people drink water from the Great Lakes every day and the lakes support thousands of Michigan jobs and families. It is simply too much to risk so that Canada can have a shortcut for their oil.”
Josh: You’re definitely right! It’s crazy to think about it like that, especially when it hits so close to home. In fact, all of the major fracking related incidents that we’ve talked about today are michigan related. And with all of our knowledge about ethical theories, we should be able to conclude that fracking is unethical and immoral.
With all of the major health and environmental concerns brought by fracking, it is essential to put forth efforts to educate others, find ethical alternative methods of obtaining energy, and holding those responsible for any negative consequences.
Rendell: We can make efforts to stop fracking in Michigan, but we all must show support for organizations which fight to end dirty drilling, like the Earth Justice Organization. Their mission is to defend our communities and public land from the fracking industry, and oppose new projects.
Secondly, we must sign petitions calling on our government to end these unsafe practices. For those of you who are skeptical of the effectiveness of petitioning, according to Ballotpedia, an average of 4 measures have appeared on the ballot for the state of Michigan since 1996. Only through petitioning, these measures have made it on the ballots. In 2015 only one had enough support to appear on the ballot, and to those of you that voted this year, I’m sure you noticed there were no state measures.
The Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative did not make it on the ballot this year because it had not received enough signatures needed to qualify.
My point is that we cannot expect change if we do not take action, and action has been lacking these past couple years.
If Michigan successfully passed the fracking ban, we would save millions of gallons of our fresh water every year, potentially save the lives of thousands, and incidents like the Flint Water Crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline could be less common.
While opposition is rising throughout the country, to my knowledge, Maryland and New York are the only states to currently hold a ban on fracking. I believe that if MI follows this example, so too would many more states. Getting the initiative on the ballot alone would increase awareness of the subject and further support.
The Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative will be gathering signatures for the 2018 midterm election. When the time comes, I encourage each of you to seek out the initiative and support the fracking ban by signing the petition. In conclusion, I implore you to make a stand. Say no to dirty drilling and putting communities at risk for the sake of the gas and oil industry,
and say yes to the Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative in 2018.
Josh: We hope that our discussion today has educated and shown you the negative side of fracking. Thank you for joining us tonight for our PHI 325 discussion group. This is Josh, Trycia, Mason, and Rendell. This wraps up our podcast session on fracking through an ethical retical. Goodnight.