Principles for Marcellus Shale Drilling

download this document as a PDF:

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL) believes that decisions about whether and how to drill for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale must be viewed through a moral lens. Human-caused global climate change is a corruption of the goodness of God’s creation. Science compels us to move away from the use of fossil fuels swiftly and immediately.

The use of coal in Pennsylvania is dropping as natural gas becomes more abundant. All fossil fuels produce heat-trapping emissions when burned, but (for the same amount of energy) natural gas creates fewer than coal, which is advantageous. However, the extraction process for any of the fossil fuels is damaging to God’s earth.

For these reasons and more, PA IPL reiterates its opposition to coal and to Marcellus natural gas as currently extracted and processed.

PA IPL could only support use of Marcellus natural gas if:

Its use was part of an overall strategy to move as quickly as possible away from coal in particular and fossil fuels in general; and

The Commonwealth imposed a drilling tax or impact fee to provide substantial investment for the   development of clean, sustainable energy sources to slow climate change, and

If overall environmental, social, community, and health impacts from drilling are sharply reduced.

None of these conditions is currently met.

PA IPL sees it as imperative that communities of faith lead by example in addressing this energy crisis:

Buy clean electricity not generated from fossil fuels, and
Conserve energy in our buildings to lessen the need to heat with fossil fuels, and
Speak out about the moral implications of energy choices.

PA IPL calls on:

Elected officials throughout Pennsylvania at all levels of government  to  refuse contributions from companies involved in the exploration, drilling, production, transportation and sale of natural gas, and

Faith-based institutions to refrain from entering into financial agreements with natural gas exploration or extraction companies until the issues highlighted here are adequately addressed.

Read PA IPL’s full statement of principles on Marcellus Shale Drilling below.

Principles for considering Marcellus Shale Drilling:

An ethical analysis

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL) is a community of congregations, faith-based organizations, and individuals of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue.  We believe that decisions about whether or not to drill, and if so under what circumstances, must be set within four broad ethical contexts: the overall impacts of global climate change, the impacts of the full “life-cycle” of a given energy source from extraction through waste disposal, socio-economic impacts, and political impacts.  This is in keeping both with our faiths and with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which reads: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.” (Article 1, Section 27)

Global Climate Change

And God saw all that God had made and behold, it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

Our various faith traditions share a belief that the earth is good and precious in God’s sight. Human-caused global climate change is a corruption of that goodness.  Indeed, it is potentially one of the most catastrophic trespasses against God’s good creation that humankind has made.  To have any chance of staving off the worst consequences of global climate change, the transition away from fossil fuels must begin now and proceed swiftly.  To that end, any energy source that helps with this transition must be seriously considered.

Natural gas (methane) is a fossil fuel, and thus its use contributes to climate change and must in the long term be eliminated.  However, because it produces more useful energy per ton of COreleased than does coal, it is preferable as an energy source to coal. The process of extracting methane from the Marcellus Shale, however, makes this comparison less clear, especially since it appears that some methane, which is itself a very potent greenhouse gas, leaks into the atmosphere during extraction.

What may be at least as important as the extraction method, however, is how the methane will be used and taxed.  Two very different scenarios might emerge.  On the one hand, the use of natural gas could be a component of an overall strategy to move as quickly as possible away from coal in particular and fossil fuels in general, with substantial investment from a proportion of impact taxes going into the development of clean, sustainable energy sources that are the only viable long-term solution to climate change.

On the other hand, natural gas might be used simply to prolong our dependence on fossil fuels, even to the point of discouraging investment in sustainable energy sources.  Income might go only to companies and landowners without any impact fees or taxes, or with such funds directed only toward the mitigation only of short-term, local impacts.  Such a scenario would not be morally acceptable.

Therefore, PA IPL reiterates its opposition to coal as an energy source and opposes Marcellus Shale drilling as currently practiced, because it is not part of a strategy for making a rapid transition away from fossil fuel use.  However, PA IPL would consider supporting drilling that was part of such a strategy, including provisions to direct portions of any fees or taxes collected to a) increase the use and development of sustainable energy solutions and b) increase energy efficiency and reduce overall energy consumption.

Life-cycle analysis

“There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee, calling God to bear witness what is in his heart: yet is he the fiercest of opponents. When he turns his back, his aim is to spread mischief through the earth, destroying crops and cattle. But God does not love mischief.”  (Qur’an 2: 204-205)

Our faith traditions teach us to be mindful of the consequences of our actions and to oppose those who pursue their own interests at the expense of  the wellbeing of others .  Coal causes severe health and environmental damage every step along the way, from mining through burning and ultimately disposal of the remaining ash.  The lives not just of miners but of whole communities have been ruined through the relentless pursuit of coal, while ecosystems, mountaintops and even entire watersheds have been devastated.  Pennsylvania offers abundant testimony to the fact that coal produces a wide variety of pollutants when burned, including carbon dioxide, smog, particulate matter, and toxins such as arsenic and mercury.  Indeed, as of July 2011, Pennsylvania has the second-most toxic air pollution from power plants of any state in the country.

There are important, unresolved questions about the environmental consequences of the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, including pollution of surface and ground water from either the “fracking” process or from methane itself.  It seems likely, however, that despite the known and potential risks from “fracking”, methane can still be extracted, transported, and used with overall lower levels of environmental and health damages than from coal.  Thus, if indeed natural gas is used to help move our nation away from the use of coal, there appears to be the potential for a reduction in overall environmental and health problems.  However, if coal use is not diminished, it is difficult to justify the consequences of fracking.  Furthermore, it is apparent that additional public disclosures and impact studies are needed to identify risks more clearly and avoid potential problems.  Current loopholes preventing more stringent oversight of the fracking process need to be eliminated, and protective regulations governing shale development must be put in place and fully enforced.  We need to provide a climate in which all fracking companies are motivated to work at the highest standard of responsibility and care.

Therefore, PA IPL could only support drilling if overall environmental and health impacts are sharply reduced. As noted above, natural gas development must be made part of a strategy to reduce fossil fuel use, increase development of sustainable energy solutions, and increase energy efficiency. Further, we urge: a) full and immediate public disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process; b) the timely completion of studies about water pollution, depletion, and other possible impacts from the drilling and fracking process; and c) national regulations to monitor and reduce all such impacts to the fullest extent possible.