Ethics of Drilling Excerpt: Effects on Poverty and Social Injustice

One is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health.
Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet, Responsa  #196

We believe that we serve God through establishing justice – and economic gains that come at the expense of harming others are unjust. Many towns in Pennsylvania have already gone through one or more cycles of boom and bust from oil and coal production.  Typically, these cycles have brought riches to few but lasting economic and social problems to many, ranging from depressed economies to scarred and infertile lands.  So far, the Marcellus Shale developments, especially without taxes or impact fees in place, seem more likely to continue this destructive pattern than to break from it.  In addition, illegal or ethically questionable practices by drilling companies have set neighbor against neighbor.

This needs to change.  Strong state or even national level regulation could help prevent a “race to the bottom” by either smaller units of government or private citizens.  It would also help prevent a “not in my backyard” mentality, whereby local groups oppose drilling in their area while still using natural gas extracted from other areas without concern.

A fee or tax system on current and future operations is imperative, and it should take into account not only short-term costs to communities, but the broader, longer-term issues such as mitigating climate change by investing in clean, sustainable energy technologies and long-term sustainable community economic development.  Knowing what we do about the history of extractive industries in Pennsylvania, we believe that it would be unethical to move forward without trying our utmost to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated.

Therefore, PA IPL can support drilling only when a state-level system is in place to prevent the repetition of such “boom and bust” cycles and to encourage long-term, sustainable economic development in communities where drilling takes place.  Furthermore, PA IPL supports efforts to help communities cooperatively resolve conflicts engendered by decisions about drilling.

Distortions to our political system

You shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
Deuteronomy 16:19

One important reason why our nation has moved so slowly to address the increasingly urgent crisis of global climate change is that fossil fuel companies have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to convince politicians to look the other way.  It is clear that many companies involved in developing the Marcellus Shale are behaving in a similar fashion.  This creates a system that is the exact opposite of what our faith traditions teach.  Instead of valuing the “least of these,” instead of protecting the most vulnerable, instead of listening to the voices of the people, our system is following the lure of money.  While this problem is obviously not limited to Marcellus Shale drilling, it is clear that a difficult situation is made much worse by this abuse of the public trust.

Therefore, we call on elected officials throughout Pennsylvania, whether serving in local, state, or national capacities, to refrain voluntarily from accepting any contributions from companies involved in the exploration, drilling, production, transportation and sale of natural gas.

Leadership in Faith Communities

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Matthew 5:14-15

Because global climate change is as much a moral challenge as a technical or scientific one, it is imperative that communities of faith take leadership roles in addressing this challenge.  One important way to do so is to lead by example, to demonstrate the choices that can be made right now, without waiting for any additional laws, regulations, or other governmental programs.  Pennsylvania currently gets more than one-half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants and another quarter from natural gas.  If we stop fracking in Pennsylvania but do not switch to buying clean electricity, the overall effect will be to support a coal-based economy and ensure that drilling for natural gas will continue outside of Pennsylvania.  That would not be moral leadership.

Therefore we call on congregations and all faith-based institutions, to reduce their energy usage, switch to sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, and speak with their constituencies about these choices.  We also call on 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.