Ethics and the Extreme Extraction of Natural Resources

by S. Tom Bond on April 26, 2015

Ethics and Extreme Extraction: Local Reflections on Global Issues

By S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Ethics is an increasing issue in unconventional resource extraction.  Taken individually, the issues which have been heard from the beginning have had an ethical component.  The complaints include destruction of aquifers, air pollution, reduction of property values, costs deferred to the public including roads, record room crowding, traffic (including emergency vehicles) held up, mud slides and so on.

These have largely been thought of as individual matters and as a loss to individuals.  They have been shrugged off by business and government, and largely ignored by the general public which feels little involvement and powerless to stop the well funded extraction companies, supported by endless public relations ploys and advertising.

As understanding diffuses (slowly) to the public at large,  and more and more people come to know someone involved, the unifying theme of ethics becomes stronger.  People are not without empathy.

Another slowly dawning awareness was discussed by Professor Garrett Hardin in an article published in Science, the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, all the way back in 1968.  This article is well worth the readers time if not familiar with the phrase “tragedy of the commons.” It is the perception that in reality much of the physical world belongs to all of us.  All of us in the present, and all who follow.  Life is short, and while we live and die in the present, we are bound, for our descendant’s sake, to plan for the extended future as far as we can see it.   It is gross incompetence in the use of our minds to ignore that responsibility.  It is ethical bankruptcy.  It is properly the stuff of ethics and religion.  It is a threat to civilization.

Not only has the fossil fuel industry continued trading human lives for profit, but, since it is difficult to convince free people to poison their own water sources or blow up their own backyards, it has increasingly killed democracy in order to keep killing people for profit. is part of of an article titled, ” The Church Should Lead, Not Follow on Climate Justice.”  The author spoke at a conference at Harvard Divinity School, “Spiritual and Sustainable: Religion Responds to Climate Change.” And, in June he will join many global thinkers at a process theology conference on climate change in Claremont, California.  Although his emphasis is on climate change brought about in considerable part by burning fossil fuels, much of the argument applies to other aspects of extreme extraction.

This is once religion and science stand shoulder to shoulder. Science takes time, but is coming. Three quarters of the available studies on the impacts of shale gas development were published in the two years 2013 and 2014. The number of peer reviewed studies doubled between 2011 and 2012 and then doubled again between 2012 and 2013 while in 2014 there were at least 154 peer reviewed studies, according to Brian Davey in an unfavorable book review of a poorly written book.

Global warming is well established and there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of scientists working on it.  The various kinds of contamination from mountaintop removal and fracking are being studied also, and doubtless they will be attacked by the greedy in the same way as climate change.  But public knowledge is growing.  Private knowledge, I will call it, of the victims, has always been around. And the public has growing understand of these processes.

One of the older groups, headquartered in San Francisco, has this to say: “The Regeneration Project is an interfaith ministry devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith. Our goal is to help people of faith recognize and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship of creation. We do this through educational programs for clergy and congregations that achieve tangible environmental results and impact public policy.  [We are] committed to a process of personal, institutional, and societal transformation starting at the grassroots level. We believe that addressing environmental concerns from a faith perspective merits our attention because the moral authority that religion carries is the necessary ingredient for wide social and political change.

A very active offshoot of this group is Interfaith Power and Light.  They provide Faith-based resources, such as Earthkeeping, including congregational resources and green sermons; information on climate change science and climate change policy.  They also provide tools to calculate home and congregational carbon footprints and examples of energy efficient improvements.  A database of State incentives for renewables and efficiency is made available.

Interfaith Power and Light is trying to develop awareness of the situation among a wide variety of congregations, many different churches are involved.  The Ohio Interfaith Power and Light is located in Columbus. A page containing their activities this month is located here.

The Presbyterians have the Stewardship of Creation Ministry Team in West Virginia. An affinity group of the Presbytery Mission Committee, the members of the team share concerns for caring for God’s creation. Team members serve the presbytery as educators, motivators, and facilitators of action to protect God’s Creation. They provide a specific “theological foundation” here, and provide specific steps for the congregation to protect the environment.

Another important movement is sponsored by the Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC.  Their philosophy statement includes “As a social enterprise, we apply commercial strategies that are intended to maximize improvements for people and the environment.”

It publishes two blogs, the Appalachian Chronicle and The Barrick Report.  The first provides news on land and water problems, how government and industry affect the ecology, public health and safety of the people of Appalachia, and suggests places people can get help.  The Barrick Report focuses on analysis and reports on emergency management and community preparedness.  This provides insight on local, regional, state and national efforts at disaster preparedness.

Appalachian Preservation Project recently held the Earth Day week conference, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia: Gathering, Acting, and Speaking in Unity.” It was held April 20th and 21st at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston, WV.  This conference was sponsored by St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory, N.C.  Partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

Also, there is comic relief if you look for it hard enough.  At least one such article results from philosophers splitting the same hair too many times, and several that one can smell the oil and gas or coal dust on the money that paid for the article. The industry has plenty of money to pay for many such excursions, of course. The energy industry receives half a trillion dollars in subsidies, world wide.  According to a graph in this article, roughly 70% of the half a trillion is for oil and gas.

This may be considered a payment to destabilize climate, if you think about it. It certainly encourages the use of gasoline and natural gas, to say nothing more about coal!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Johnson May 4, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Ban fracking!

(We need an actual BAN until the States pass strong regulations to protect our citizens

and until the US Congress removes the Halliburton loopholes and protects our



ABC11 on Duke Energy May 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm

More people near Duke Energy coal ash pits statewide in North Carolina told not to drink their water 

North Carolina officials are warning more residents living near Duke Energy’s coal ash pits that it’s not safe to drink or cook with their well water after tests showed contamination levels that is raising health concerns.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Tuesday that 152 wells tested near Duke’s dumps failed to meet state groundwater standards. That represents more than 93 percent of the 163 wells for which tests have been completed so far.

Many of the tests results show high levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, vanadium and hexavalent chromium.

Last month, the state said tests of 87 private wells near Duke’s plants failed to meet state standards. A state law passed after last year’s spill into the Dan River required testing of all drinking wells within 1,000 feet of Duke’s 32 coal ash dumps.

The ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. It contains numerous potentially harmful chemicals, including those now showing up in the wells of Duke’s neighbors.


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