Morality Now Absent in Marcellus Shale Speculation, Land Degradation, & Civil Discontent

by S. Tom Bond on June 9, 2018

Leaks, spills, fires, explosions happen every day, OMG!

Fracking, natural capital and morality withdrawn

Essay by Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Fracking is surely the most widely contentious industrial process today. It beats out use of pesticides, and brings much the same complaints as mountaintop removal to a much wider area. It involves natural capital, the God given things we humans have to use for our support and betterment, our common property.

Natural capital was here before we humans came along, and will be needed after you and I are gone, indeed as long as there are humans on earth, indeed as long as there is life of any kind. Failure to recognize it as an asset is a serious mistake, because this can be squandered.

The natural world is a wonderfully complex system. Whether you see it as worked out over 4.54 billion years, or the gift of an all-powerful God, examination shows wonderful properties. Dead life is recycled so that there are no piles of trash, a perfect recycling system, even the rocks are recycled in time. Humans are recent and have become in our day unaware of our increasingly urban way of connections to this marvelous system, and how tenuous our life is and how brief our time here actually is. (Old age forces you think about this, though.) Humanity survives by a succession of generations. Each must learn from the last.

We humans are increasingly out-of-whack because our technology alters our immediate environment for our survival and comfort. Our needs are immediate and our thinking first arrives at solutions suited for immediate use, rather than fitting well into the natural system. Thus we have garbage, resource shortages, and, largely unrecognized destruction of the vast system in which we survive. It has recently become known to science, our best system for knowing, that, “60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.” And we have caused the loss of 50% of the plant life.

So where does fracking come in?

Fracking will denude much of the area where it is practiced. Viewed from high altitude we will be able to see the pockmarks of fracking pads, and the veins of connecting roads and pipelines. Restoration of grass to pads and roadways will never be as productive as before within the lifetime even of the youngest now alive. Forests requires 70 years to grow to harvest if replanted on the pipelines, and it won’t be. Poisoned waters may clear up in centuries, and it may not. Sick people in the form of lost labor and lost mental work are human capital lost by fracking.

All this is natural capital and there is negligible price for altering it, no consideration for its loss. Owners of this capital and the public must bare a loss, so it is no inhibition on the fracker or factor in the price of natural gas to restrain it’s use!

It is widely understood that the decrease in the value of property, making people sick, adding to the burden of the taxpayer and poisoning water that could be used later or down stream is immoral. How does that enter the decision to frack? Not at all! It is ignored by the companies, by the financiers, and by government.

Legislators have the motivation for moral withdrawal provided by the companies. It is known that there are more than 20 registered lobbyists for every member of Congress. Most are deployed to block anything that would tax, regulate or otherwise threaten a deep-pocketed client. There is a similar situation in state legislatures, no doubt.

Enforcement is not adequate even for existing agencies. They are underfunded, understaffed, and under motivated. For example, the U. S. has one pipeline inspector for every 5000 miles of pipeline, about twice the length of the country.

There are 2.7 million miles of pipeline snaked across the U.S. Some of the pipes carry hazardous chemicals, others carry crude oil, and still others carry highly pressurized natural gas. And when it comes to safety, all of them are under the care of 528 government inspectors.

Moral withdrawal helps make money for a few, and robs many others, and plays havoc with natural capital.

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