Ethical Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing

Ethical Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing
May 5, 2022 No Comments Global Bioethics Sophia Builione

Planet Under Pressure: The Ethical Implications of the Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

By Sophia Builione

Image by jwigley from Pixabay

Table of Contents


Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking”, is a process utilizing drilling technology for extracting oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, or water from deep underground. The first facility opened for operation in the United States in 1947. Today over 1.7 million wells are used in the fracking process, with 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas having been extracted in the last 70 years. However, with these high quantities of natural resources extracted from the shale sites, many environmental and health concerns have arisen. Studies have shown contamination in water and soil as a result of the chemicals used while drilling into the ground. These chemicals are leading to many heath complications including various forms of cancer and asthma. Even with these growing concerns, officials insist there is benefit to the hydraulic fracturing process. This debate has initiated the ethic conversation in recent years. This paper will focus on the various components to the fracking debate and the ethical implications of the fracking process through a consequential lense using the values of safety, security, justice, and responsibility. 


Imagine it is a Sunday evening in March 2022. You are at a gas station in New Jersey to fill your car up before the long week ahead of you. When you turn to look at the final price, it is well over one hundred dollars, or maybe the gas attendant has stopped the pump before it could even reach that point. An ordinary consumer may not realize that the intersection of a global crisis, national legislation, and the oil industry have led to gas prices rising past a “reasonable” price. They may not have even considered how the easiest path to stable prices has factors that are connected to climate change and public health. This paper will focus on one component of the oil industry, hydraulic fracturing. The conversation around the net benefits and harms of hydraulic fracturing has been ongoing in the last ten years and has been especially prevalent in the years following the SARS-COV-2 (Covid-19) pandemic. Before the pandemic hit, the industry had seen a rapid increase in productivity and natural resources recovered, while simultaneously scientists have had to address the potential long term and short term effects this industry could have on local and global populations, health, the economy, and the environment. However, as the effects of the pandemic began to set in, it became clear that the industry could not stay afloat when there were low oil demands. In an article published during the pandemic it was found that “fracking companies … require oil prices of at least $30, if not much higher, to turn a profit” (McDonnal) and as seen in early pandemic oil prices “not one of the 100 largest fracking operations in the country can turn a profit.” (McDonnal, Quartz) As we emerge from the pandemic today, fracking has still not been revitalized to its full potential, as scientists seek to find answers to its environmental and health impacts. 

As the pandemic-related closures occurred, this topic also began to be heavily politicized and polarized. The most recent election cycle (2020 presidential election) alongside the 2022 Ukrainian Crisis, brought to light both the benefits and the harms of the industry. In the election cycle, the 2 candidates argued over the need for fracking; former President Trump claimed that his opponent, President Joe Biden’s stance on climate change would limit the growth of the fracking industry, while President Biden corrected him that he advocated for bans of fracking on federal land, not an overall ban. (Pike) This topic came back to haunt President Biden in early 2022, as the nation urged for new wells to be opened. This is due to the notion that “Higher oil prices strengthen the Russian economy and weaken Western Europe’s. Higher oil prices also hurt America — so long as fracking production stays muted.” (Smith). It was believed that open federal lands in order to encourage nationally sourced oil. All of the media attention on fracking in the last two years has also encouraged civilian debate over whether there is a real need for the fracking industry. As these ideas became more present in the news, it left many to wonder whether fracking is a crucial industry within the U.S. economy.

 Ultimately, this paper will aim to address whether the benefits of the hydraulic fracturing industry outweigh the potential harm on both local and global populations. It will also address the questions of whether hydraulic fracturing is As there is also an increase in climate change activism, it is also important to question if hydraulic fracturing is the most environmentally friendly form of extracting natural resources. Is this the path to a more environmentally friendly source of energy or is it a ploy used by “Big Oil” companies to continue to encourage us to use oil instead of switching to renewable energy. 

To examine these ideas, I will explore two main ethical questions regarding the benefits and harms from the fracturing industry. First, is it for the greater good (utilitarianism) to allow the health of some individuals to directly suffer in order for others to enjoy 21st century necessities; and second, is it more harmful socioeconomically to make people pay for more expensive counterparts (solar energy/wind turbines) if it is beneficial for their health and the environment in the long run? In order to determine the ethicality of the fracturing process. I examined these questions first by looking at the impacts on three stakeholders: the economy, the environment, and society. Next I broke down the impacts on the stakeholders using the values of  justice, the juxtaposition of safety and security, and responsibility to further consider the ethical implications. Finally, I used the ethical framework of consequentialism to determine the net benefits and harms of the hydraulic fracking industry.

Fracking Background

Hydraulic fracturing is the process in which rock formation is stimulated to increase the volume of natural oil or gas that can be recovered. These wells are drilled vertically and reach thousands of feet below the land surface. Once below the surface, the well may include the horizontal or directional sections that also extend thousands of feet. In order to extract the natural gasses from the rock formations, wells inject fluids consisting of water, proppant, and chemical additives that enlarge the fractures so that more natural oil and gasses can be recovered. (United States Environmental Protection Agency) This process of hydraulic fracturing can be dated back to 1857 when Preston Barmore lowered gunpowder into a well, resulting in an explosion that fractured the rock and in result increased flow of gas from the well. 

Photo by Brad Weaver on Unsplash

Since then the technologies and methods used to extract oil from the wells has progressed significantly resulting in a boom of productivity in extracting oil from shale wells. However, at the time the process was not economically viable. It did not become so until 1998 when Nick Steinsberger was given permission to try a new approach to completing the well that had been drilled a mile and a half deep into a thick gray wedge of rock known as the Barnett Shale. He nicknamed it “my slick-water frac.” (Gold) It was the first commercially successful use of sand, water and chemicals, pumped into the shale under high pressure, to break open the rock and release the natural gas inside. It was the beginning of modern fracking. In 2008 the industry made another important invention. Now, not only could fracking liberate small natural gas molecules from rocks, it also worked on the longer hydrocarbon chains that make up crude oil. (Gold)  Hydraulic fracking occurs across all fifty states. In the years between 1947 and 2010 there were approximately 987,000 wells drilled in the contiguous United States, with 278,000 being drilled within the years 2000 and 2010. States such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and West Virginia are large exporters of crude oil and home to many of the fracking wells. (Ballotpedia)

As the fracking industry continued to grow at exponential rates, it became more apparent of the potential impacts it could yield. In order to fully understand these impacts, it is important to examine how they affected each key stakeholder: the economy, the environment, and societies physical and mental health. 

Impacts on Key Stakeholders

The Economy

Over the past decade, global oil consumption has increased by 11.1 million barrels per day (BPD). Without the advent of the fracking revolution, which led to the oil boom in the U.S., every country would likely have paid much higher oil prices during this time and further enriched the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia in the process. As the U.S. has increased their fracking productivity, U.S. oil production broke OPEC’s hold on global oil prices. This has overall unleashed an unimaginable wealth of natural gas, gas liquids and crude oil, turning the U.S. from dependent on oil into an exporter. Overall, North America supplied 20 million barrels per day (BPD) of the world’s oil in 2017 (22%). This was ahead of every other region of the world except for the Middle East, which produced 31.6 million BPD, or 34.1% of the world’s total.U.S. now leads both Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil production. (Rapier)

However the strength of the industry could not last forever. In the years of 2018 to 2020, signs started to show that the industry was reaching a rescission. Stocks of energy firms tanked, causing some companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corporation to declare bankruptcy in 2020. Additionally, the natural oil and gas industry lost 100,000 jobs that year, with studies warning that seventy percent of these jobs would not return in 2021. (Jerolmack) Prior to the decline, the U.S. was the largest natural gas producer in the world. This resulted from a total marketed production growth of 7.9 percent in 2011, which was the sixth consecutive year of growth in marketed production and the largest year-over-year percentage increase since 1984. Additionally all types of energy consumers, including commercial, industrial, and electric power consumers, saw economic gains totaling $74 billion per year from increased fracking. While these gains were occurring, everyday gas consumers also saw benefits. Gas bills have dropped $13 billion per year from 2007 to 2013 as a result of increased fracking, which adds up to $200 per year for gas-consuming households. Additionally, natural gas prices dropped 47 percent when compared to what the price would have been before the fracking revolution.  While this could be attributed to solely a coincidence, the rise of U.S. fracking created locally sourced oil meaning the cost of transportation would inevitably decrease. This low-cost fuel has become the leading source of power generation in the U.S., as the rise of fracking reshaped the electricity markets. This led to the closure of more than 200 coal plants, as well as a number of nuclear plants. (Gold) While it is challenging to find the exact number of jobs lost as a result of these closures, coal miner employment decreased by 2,386 jobs between the years of 2006 and 2013. (Global Energy Monitor) 

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

In addition to consumer gains as a result of the fracking revolution, workers had benefited from the growth of the industry. As fracking wells continued to open, companies needed workforces in the rural areas in which they were situated. Oil and natural gas companies provided one million direct jobs in America, in addition to one million indirect and induced jobs. These induced jobs resulted from the growth in population and movement in areas with fracking wells, creating a sense of financial security within these regions. However, as the covid – 19 pandemic began to affect the American economy, wells started to shut down. Further political movement away from the reopening of the well sites increased job loss. This coincides with the overall job loss of the covid-19 pandemic where the U.S. lost “Roughly 9.6 million U.S. workers (ages 16 to 64) lost their jobs, based on averages of the first three quarters of 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020.” (Bennett) As society began to emerge from the pandemic, it became clear there needed to be a surplus of jobs created to stimulate the economy. This ideological movement to reestablish jobs on American soil for American workers, therefore has the potential to demonstrate the importance of a stable fracking industry for the U.S. economy. 

This section highlighted the importance of the hydraulic fracturing industry on the U.S. economy. It affects both the broader global, national, and local communities as it supplies natural gasses, oils, jobs, and money. However all the benefits that seem to impact the economy need to be considered with the harms that impact the environment as will be discussed in the next section. 


Water use is an integral part of the hydraulic fracking process. Since water is a critical part of everyday life, one would assume any manipulation of it would be heavily regulated by the government. However, there is not a mandate by the Underground Injection Control (UIC) that   ensures the safe usage of water in fracking sites. The UIC is integral in regulations concerning the use of water because it regulates the different types of subsurface disposable systems such as septic systems receiving industrial wastewater, subsurface trench systems, dry wells, and seepage pits. The UIC works to regulate through providing a permit that ensures compliance with state performance and treatment standards. (NJ Bureau of GroundWater, Residuals, and Permit Administration) Since fracking sites have created a loophole in which they do not have to comply with government standards, those living near the wells are guarenteed that their safety is being kept in mind. Instead they have to rely on the companies to be transparent in the process. Most importantly, citizens are putting blind trust that these officials are upholding their responsibility to protect the safety of all in a community. 

The quality of the water is not the only concern. Hydraulic fracturing also uses an excessive amount of water needed in order to obtain the natural gasses and oils trapped beneath the surface. The cumulative water used from any industry results in an annual withdrawal from natural water bodies at an estimated 4250 km3. As water continues to be used in exorbitant amounts, it continues to affect global climate change, increasing the frequency of droughts and further provoking the crisis at hand. The continued water crisis is among the top ten long-term risks in the impact category of the “Global Risks Report 2020”, further demonstrating the importance of stopping it from occurring. For the fracking industry to play a role in limiting water waste, scientists argue that they could simply reusing the water that is needed for hydraulic fracturing. 

While this idea is still in development, it establishes a comforting feeling: scientists feel a responsibility to provide alternatives to harmful practices.  As concerns pertaining to the environment 

Physical Health

When discussing the health effects that the hydraulic fracturing industry can have on the human population it is important to consider all the factors impacting human health. Many of these health concerns are due to the potential cancer causing carcinogens from the many chemicals used during the fracking process. Other impacts on human health come from the increased pollutants in the era. The short term health effects of fracking is primarily on workers and near-by residents who are exposed to air and water contaminants, radioactivity and excessive noise and light pollution. These exposures result in respiratory symptoms, neurologic impairment from the hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds, and stress resulting from the smells, dust, noise and light pollution. (Carpenter) It is impossible to know all the long term health effects of fracking, however there are already concerns arising. Epidemical studies are already showing risks of women living closer to fracking have increased odds of having a baby with lower-than-average birth weight; of having a high-risk pregnancy; or having a baby with a low infant health index. There are additional concerns of asthma, migraine headaches, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, and skin disorders that have occured in the last 10 years of studying health impacts. (Marusic) 

Additionally there are many chemicals involved in the process of extracting natural gasses. As of now there are about 632 chemicals known to be used during natural gas extraction. Experts have noted that many of these chemicals have known effects on skin, eyes, nervous, respiratory, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems.There are also high levels of volatile organic pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, and H2S around fracking sites in six US states. When the levels were compared to cancer and non-cancer federal exposure standards, it was found that 40% of the samples we collected exceeded safe levels.Because cancer has a long latency the presence of so many known carcinogens in the air around fracking sites is of great concern.This furthers the question of the industry’s transparency and the government’s responsibility. If the government knows that the industry is utilizing this amount of cancer causing chemicals, do they have a responsibility to limit the use? Formaldehyde is also a known human carcinogen. It is not certain that formaldehyde is a component of natural gas, but it is formed both from combustion (flaring of natural gas, exhaust from diesel trucks) and by action of sunlight on methane. There have also been observed elevations in rates of congenital heart disease and possibly neural tube defects in children born to mothers living within 10 miles of natural gas wells. There is strong evidence that air pollution increases risk of asthma and cardiovascular disease. Inhalation of volatile organics is known to result in central nervous system alterations. (Carpenter)

While the impacts on physical health seem to be most important, as they involve cancers, respiratory issues, and the health of babies and pregnant women, it is not the only way human health is impacted. Mental health, while less studied, is just as important to consider when attempting to understand that impact on all stakeholders.

Mental Health

Additionally, it is important to consider the fracking industry’s impacts on the mental health of society. To understand how societal views impact the mental health of a community, experts look for socio-psychological signs of harm. The study of social-psychology is defined as “the study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behavior of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups.” (Merriam Webster) Information surrounding the social-psychology of communities where fracking wells are located may be just as important as physical health effects to understand the overall impact on society. Even though the impacts on mental health are not commonly considered an issue within the fracking conflict, it could be important in understanding the overall national view on the issue. This could highlight the nationwide divide in opinions surrounding fracking that occurred in the U.S.   

To understand local impacts on mental health in communities where hydraulic fracturing wells are present, a study was conducted in Denton, Texas. Denton is home to a recent boom in fracking. This led to the formation of opposing groups: anti-frackers and pro-frackers. The anti-fracking group was analyzed to understand how their movement, Free Fracking Denton (FFD), impacted the social-psychology within the town.  The factors researchers analyzed while looking for alterations in behaviors were the loss of land, chemical use, changing dynamics of the community, population increase, and uncertainty of future outcomes, all present in the introduction of fracking wells in a community.

A study was conducted to see the psychological impact on this group of people. Many factors were found to be contributing to the town’s overall socio-psychology including general anxiety and stress, social frustration, and distancing from differing groups. The general stress and anxiety as compared to periods of time before the introduction of fracking had increased. As members of the community recounted,

“There was noise, and there was truck traffic, and there was fumes and there were lights and that when it became abundantly clear that even with two sets of revisions to our Gas Well Ordinances, that they were still inadequate.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 There was a feeling that whatever they did to halt the practice would not be heard or put into action. This led to social frustration that led to an extreme ideological opposition of the two groups within the community of Denton. Within the town, people would conjugate based on their ideas surrounding fracking. This meant that they would only be hearing one side of the argument surrounding fracking. Naturally a division began to form between the pro-frackers and anti-frackers. When a formation such as this exists, there becomes an Us V. Them mentality within the community. The anti-frackers say the pro-frackers are against their beliefs, and with such a polarizing issue, were not able to cooperate with each other. However, by not listening to the opposition’s ideas and values, communities find themselves in a self fulfilling prophecy, where the idea of the opposition being against them becomes more and more prominent. Finally, since this interaction ultimately becomes highly toxic, the social health of individuals suffers. It becomes a concern because this act of others leads to social health issues such as marginalization, hatred, social exclusion, and stigmatization. This will affect each person’s psychological health and social purpose in the community. (Soyer, Kaminski)

Why is this small town in Texas relevant to the fracking issue as a whole? Can this one small community be reflective of a whole country, or even the globe? While reflecting on these questions, it appeared to me that it can. While analyzing the FFD movement does not take into account the complexities of social media and socioeconomic status, the ideas of general anxiety and stress, social frustration, and distancing from differing groups can be found throughout the U.S. when important issues become polarized and ultimately politicized. Especially through the catalyst of social media platforms, anti-fracking and pro-fracking groups can find each other regardless of geographical boundaries and form communities with a singular opinion on the issue. When individuals join these polarizing groups, they become overstimulated with opinions solely supporting their original beliefs. As a society, it can be argued that we have a responsibility to inform ourselves of all perspectives and views. Currently that is not common practice across the U.S, however utilizing this more while learning about issues, symptoms of unhealthy socio-psychological mindsets can be minimized. Then maybe society as a whole can limit the impacts on mental health that occur from the industry. 


Safety vs. Security

The Hydraulic Fracturing industry has been praised for its capability to create a secure and stable economy. However, this had been maintained with knowledge of the strain it caused on the safety of individuals near the wells, in addition to the broader impact on the safety regarding the environment.  In order to ethically consider the reinstatement and growth of the fracturing industry it is important to consider the safety of the stakeholder in juxtaposition to the security the fracking industry has provided to the U.S. Economy. Many of the byproducts of the fracking industry have proved to be harmful to human health. During the process of bringing the crude oil up, carcinogenic chemicals are used, polluting the groundwater and soil of the nearby areas. Hence, the human right to a safe environment is put into jeopardy. This right is not a luxury, but a necessity. Through the Stockholm Declaration (UN) environmental safety was pushed to be recognized as a right to all people regardless of region or nation. Then on October 8, 2021, when the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution 48/13, recognizing that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. While this is not legally binding, it shows a strong moral pull towards providing a safe environment for all through formulation and content. Additionally, the argument of hydraulic fracturing being a cleaner and safer alternative to burning traditional fossil fuels has been proven to be false. The methane that is ultimately a more potent gas. Even though it is argued to have a shorter half life, in the time frame our society has to worry about concerning climate change, the potency matters more. And when looking at the potency, methane causes more harm than traditional fossil fuels. 

However, it is still important to consider the security hydraulic fracturing has created within our economy, and the continued security it has the potential to create. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a sharp decline in jobs. When considering a permanent limit or ban on the fracking industry, it is important to consider the effect it could have on job growth. Opening more mines is an opportunity to create more jobs on American soil and provide a fix to gas price inflation. When the U.S. has utilized the crude oil in shales, oil prices have stabilized, creating security in price. Additionally higher oil prices creates inflation in travel, manufacturing, and day-to-day prices, creating social instability. Citizens begin to verbally attack government officials, creating further divides between opposing political parties. It is important to note however that the idea of security presented in the hydraulic fracturing industry could be a red herring. A red herring  If societal economies continue to rely solely on the oil industry, there is potential to further dependence and stay in a continual cycle of instability. Eventually, there will be a limited supply of oil, and we will no longer be able to utilize it as we do now. If we are forced to find the alternative now, society could have a more stable and secure option that will both supply the need for a stable economy and safe environment.


Image by Sang Hyun Cho from Pixabay

Justice is an important value to consider, particularly when a practice transcends geographical boundaries in its impacts. Hydraulic fracturing occurs in many diverse regions and is distributed to a multitude of states, countries and types of people. Everyone involved in the process faces different consequences of the actions, and some reap more of the negative consequences than others. This is when the idea of Distributive environmental Justice (DEJ) is important to consider. Environmental justice can be defined as no group of people (racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic) should bear a disproportionate environmental health burden resulting from industrial, municipal, or commercial operations. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) In other words, when considering where fracking wells are drilled, the same types of people should not be continually impacted. However, studies have shown that there is a disproportionate number of minorities and low-income residents in areas near fracking wells. This may be because fracking wells are typically drilled in more rural areas where there may not be as many opportunities for economic advancement. Additionally, various studies have revealed that water pollution disproportionately affects those in communities of the poor, elderly, and less educated. Considering that fracking releases pollutants and other carcinogens into water during the “shooting” process, this could be another factor to consider when considering whether fracking is just or not. 

As the industry looks to expand amid the shortage of ethically sourced oil during the continuing Ukrainian crisis, it is important to understand where the new wells would be drilled. Debated legislation has been over where expansion could occur. Most notably, the federal government is considering allowing wells to be drilled on public lands. 

There are benefits too, considering that fracking provided 2 million direct and indirect jobs. The 1 million direct jobs would primarily be supplied to those living in communities near wells, so while they are living in pollution, they still are able to advance economically. But again, this seems to be a red herring. Fracking mines attract billionaires, who have created their own modern day oil booms in states like North Dakota and in the region of west Texas. (McCartney, Wethe) Experts have labeled this as the Big Oil issue, discerning that the real benefactors don’t live in the towns that are being polluted. This creates an unjust economic issue, as those in the top one percent of society continue to see immense economic benefits. While statistics recognize this, citizens of fracking towns recognize the issue too. In Denton, Texas where the socio-psychological survey was conducted, 68% of the fracking land is owned by people living outside of Denton. Activist Tammy quoted “These mineral owners from out of town. They don’t see daily life. They don’t breathe the air, drink the water. They don’t have the capacity to care the way that we do in town.” This creates an opposition to those who are in charge of the mines and a disconnect within the community most affected.

As it was considered in safety and security, it is important to again discuss the potential to find a more eco-friendly alternative to fracking such as hydromills, wind turbines, or solar panels. It seems that these options would take away the major environmental concerns of water and air pollution, while still providing jobs, particularly in engineering to build and maintain the structures. Yet, are there potential downfalls to these options as well. Mainly, could a financial issue occur when considering replacing fracking with any of these sustainable alternatives. First, it would undoubtedly disrupt the economy and trade, as the structure current-day is fixated on an oil economy. Secondly, as has been seen with other “clean” alternatives such as electric cars, sustainability can be expensive. One of the bigger names in electric cars, Tesla, expects around 99,000 dollars USD for a car. For much of the population, it is a lot to expect people to shell out nearly 100,000 dollars to be more environmentally friendly. Could this expense be replicated in an environmentally friendly economy and how would society deal with this: that is the question we must ask.


Next, it is important to consider the responsibility  of the stakeholders of the fracking industry. Mainly society has been questioning who is responsible for the harms that come from the fracking industry and does that group have a responsibility to limit it. Society mainly looks towards the ruling body (in the U.S.the federal government including the president, senate, and congress) to create these regulations. If laws are passed that limit fracking expansion or the consumption of fracking by-products, then individuals and businesses must follow them. This would in turn lead to reforms that citizens are requesting. Even if it is smaller scale legislation such as limiting where fracking can expand, it could impact the overall ethicality of the industry. For example, the Federal land managers, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have some oversight of oil and gas activities on the lands they manage. These branches of the government have a responsibility to ensure that  environmental impact studies are conducted. Therefore, these groups have the responsibility to ensure the enforcement of environmental protections, as common citizens do not have the reach they have. (Kornze)

Does this mean that citizens are alleviated from all responsibilities surrounding the hydraulic fracturing industry? Not necessarily. It seems hard to create large change as an individual when it comes to industries that heavily contribute to climate change. If these industries were not benefitting (mostly financially) a powerful few, then it would may be easier to shut them down or limit their impacts. However, these industries have been ingrained into society, meaning it would be breaking down a systematic entity. Yet, people should be held responsible if they choose to use crude oil as energy resources. This acknowledgment of responsibility could come in many forms. One being simply trying to limit how much crude oil energy you use. This could be choosing to carpool to work, rather than drive separate cars. Or, if you have the financial resources to, installing solar panels on your house. Additionally, education plays a very important role in accepting responsibility. Even by reading this paper, a citizen would be making themselves more aware of the impacts their actions have. Furthermore, education provides the opportunity to inspire change. This therefore, can inspire the first form of citizen responsibility mentioned. 


The ethical framework I used while considering the implications of hydraulic fracturing was consequentialism. Consequentialism is an ethical framework that considers whether the action or event was ethical based on the outcomes. While considering the consequences of shale fracturing, it is beneficial to see both the positives and negatives consequences before determining the overall ethicality of fracturing. In the duration of this paper, I have considered the stakeholders of the economy, environment, and society in efforts to see who is the most negatively impacted. I also aimed to answer the question of if there were too many severe negative impacts to outweigh the positive. 

As these questions were explored, it became evident that there are too many negative consequences that occur in the current hydraulic fracturing industry. Human health is mostly impacted negatively. Even if you consider the benefits of plastics, which are produced from oils that fracking provides, the healthcare industry would still face the consequences of becoming overrun by the conditions that arise from fracking activities. There is clear evidence that the numerous chemicals involved in the prominent are carcinogenic, meaning that the extraction of oil has the potential to give cancer to those living in the areas. If fracking expands and more people are exposed to these chemicals, the healthcare system could become overrun with patients. 

Additionally, while the economy seems to be the only stakeholder genuinely benefiting from the industry, this may be a red herring as mentioned earlier. Oil dependency in the economy inhibits society’s ability to move forward from natural gasses. If there is no effort to move away from the oil industry, society will forever be dependent on a limited  resource. 


This still leaves us pondering the persistent question of  if we can ethically continue to use hydraulic fracturing. Through this paper I have worked to answer this seemingly simple question. First, I explained the inner-workings of the hydraulic fracturing industry in order to set a base of knowledge before examining the complexities of the various stakeholders involved in the consequences. Then broad stakeholders of the economy, environment, and public health were introduced to see where and how hydraulic fracturing’s consequences are felt. In doing so this raised even more questions such as: How are we supposed to enjoy the luxuries of natural gas’ energy (cars, electricity, technology) without some health effects? Could we really have it all? If as a society we value our ability to abuse technology and the energy is needed to power it, should we not be okay with the inevitable bad from it? I then examined the notion of consequences, looking to see whether there were too many harms to continue this industry in an ethical society. While looking at the consequences, I concluded for myself that the harms that arise as a result of hydraulic fracturing are too detrimental to be ignored. 

Does this mean that all hydraulic fracturing wells should be shut down instantly? Not necessarily. According to the department of fossil energy and carbon management, if radical bills instantly banning fracking “would have far-reaching and severe consequences, including the loss of millions of jobs, price spikes at the gasoline pump and higher electricity costs for all Americans—and the likelihood of increased CO2, SO2, and NOx emissions” (Department of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management) Additionally, it is important to consider the national security, a complete ban of fracking would weaken U.S. geopolitical influence, while making the U.S. a “net importer of oil and gas once again.” (Department of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management) This is partially important to keep in mind as the situation in Ukraine continues to develop.  Ever changing political climates affect the need for hydraulic fracturing, as the U.S. feels pressure to not source natural gasses and oils from Russia or its allies. Yet, just because we can not ban hydraulic fracturing immediately, it does not mean we can not work towards a more environmentally friendly source of energy. What needs to occur is the development of an environmentally friendly energy industry, that overtime can provide the same security fracking does.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

One source of environmentally friendly energy that has the ability to create this stability is solar energy. Experts believe that “With continued technological advances, electricity prices do not increase through 2035.” Ninety-five percent decarbonization of the electric grid will be achieved in 2035 without increasing electricity prices because decarbonization and electrification costs are fully offset by savings from technological improvements and enhanced demand flexibility.” This already takes into account the idea of energy security that is so pivotal to hydraulic fracturing’s benefits. Solar panels also do not take up much space. “In 2050, ground-based solar technologies require a maximum land area equivalent to 0.5% of the contiguous U.S. surface area.” which is equivalent to 1,215,000,000 acres of the U.S. 243,000,000,000 acres. While fracking uses significantly less land, wells must be drilled where shales are. These lands include near where people live and native american spiritual lands, intruding on people’s ways of life. The land that solar panels require, however, “could be met in numerous ways, including the use of disturbed or contaminated lands unsuitable for other purposes.” (Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) This would theoretically eliminate the issue of land disparities, when considering who is most negatively impacted by the location of energy resources. 

While this paper goes into a variety of topics surrounding the ethicality of Hydraulic fracturing, I could not research everything with the limited time. With more time, I would have enjoyed looking at more countries and their national implications of hydraulic fracturing to better understand it on a global scale. I also would have liked to research more about environmentally stable alternative energy such as wind turbines and hydroelectric energy. Finally, I would have liked to meet with local policy makers to see what they understand about hydraulic fracturing impacts on my immediate community and the policies within my home state, New Jersey.

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