Shale Drilling is Morally Impermissible


It is morally impermissible to extra natural gas and oil through shale drilling because it acerbate air and underground water pollution due to toxic chemicals contain in the fluids used in fracturing. The technique is also associated with tremors and minor earthquakes due to the force involved.

Explanation of the claim

Statistics have indicated that United States has overtaken Russian to become the world’s top natural gas producer. Further forecaster indicated that United States will surpass Saudi Arabia by 2020 to become the world largest oil producer. The improvement in gas and oil production in the United States was seen as impossible in the last two decades(Beninscasa). The surge in natural gas and oil production is attributed to energy companies being able to access and tap natural gas and oil in areas that were considered inaccessible in the past such as in shale and impermeable rock formations. The introduction of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves the process of pumping fluids at high pressure into the shale in order to cause cracks in the rocks thus realizing the trapped natural gas and oil.

Shale fracturing has attracted controversial from different quarters with the argument that it reduces the prices of natural gas. There is a perception that shale fracturing is likely to undercut the fledging renewable energy industry, at least in the near term. However, the increased adoption of shale fracking is likely to acerbate air congestion, traffic and pollution(Austine, et al.). Shale fracturing technology requires the use of large volumes of water, which is pumped at high pressure into the shale to crack the rocks and releases the trapped natural gas and oil. These operations sometimes induces minor earthquakes and tremors. Nonetheless, the most unique risk which is associated with shale fracking and has attracted a lot of public apprehension is contamination of the underground. This is due to toxic chemicals contain in the fluids that are used in fracturing process.

It is important to understand that these risks are not unique to shale fracking only because conventional drilling has been in use in the United States for the past 60 years. Also, there is little evidence from studies that have indicated that subterranean fracturing technique directly lead to contamination of groundwater(Beaver). The likelihood of underground water becoming contaminated is limited because layer of shale that is fractured is normally located several thousand feet below the water table beneath a dense clay or rock that acts as a buffer. However, contamination of groundwater is likely to occur when fracturing fluid spills on the surface, natural gas or oil finds its way into the water ways and improper handling of waste products.

Some these challenges associated with shale fracturing comes as a result of lack of controlled best practices regulations. By putting in place regulations and empowering regulatory bodies, they will be able to conduct research and document additional information about the potential risks and dynamics about shale fracturing. These regulatory bodies would also be able to put in place mechanism that stimulate innovations and reduces risks.

Reasons for the claim

  • Economic competition

Economists argues that when the supply of natural gas and oil is increased, their prices reduces hence reducing fracturing price-based incentives targeting energy conservation. This also means that the development of renewable energy such as geothermal, wind and solar will be impeded. This argument is morally right because increased extraction of the natural gas and oil affects the general campaign supporting the use of renewable energy globally. Renewable energy is known to be environmentally friendly and any move that would curtail the adoption and their investment is morally unacceptable.

  • Air pollution

There are four methods that shale drilling could lead to environmental risks. First, the release or leakage of methane from wells and pipeline, hence contributing to increased emission of greenhouse gases. In some case, the leakage of methane has led to explosion and loss of life. Secondly, water that is used as fracturing fluid is mixed with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene. These organic compound evaporates into the atmosphere when the fluids is exposed into the surface(Field, et al.). VOCs is known to acerbate nausea, asthma, risk of cancer and other symptoms. Thirdly, considering that shale drilling goes deeper under the earth surface within the zones known to experience “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORMs), shale drilling is likely to expose residence and workers to these NORM when the materials used in drilling are brought into the surface. Fourthly, shale drilling involves the use of heavy machinery that uses fossil fuel hence emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These reason shows that shale drilling is morally impermissible since it acerbate air pollution as well as risks associated with health conditions resulting from NORMs.

  • Water usage

As stated above, shale fracturing requires large amounts of water. For instance, a single well uses between 2 to 4 million gallons(Karlbuttler, et al.). This means that local supply of water is likely to be affected if more than 35,000 wells are to be fractured annually. It is estimated that shale drilling of about 35,000 wells annually requires as much water as 5 million people requires to consume. This is clear indication that large amounts of water needed in shale drilling is likely to make many people to lack clean water for domestic and industrial use, which is morally wrong and unethical.

  • Earthquakes and induced tremors

Although there is an argument that shale drilling induces minor earthquakes and causes tremors, National Research Council have confirmed that seismic events resulting from shale fracturing are rare and small. Most of these tremors are experienced when injecting and disposal of fracturing fluids. These minor earthquakes and tremor can send panic among the people residing in the areas where shale drilling is taking place. This means that shale drilling should not be allowed because the causing panic to the public is morally wrong and unethical

Reasons against the claim

There are several reason why shale drilling is morally impermissible. Some of the reasons include:

  • Economic growth

Energy engineers and economist have argued that shale drilling enhances economic growth since natural gas and oil cheaper domestically. This technique is capital intensive and high-paying, it generated $87 billion of capital investment in the United States in the year 2012(Hughes). The investment is expected to generate a revenue of approximately $172.5 billion by the end of the decade and generating cumulative revenue of $5.1 trillion by the end of 2035. In addition, each new shale drilling is predicted to create more jobs in terms of financial services, geological survey and suppliers of machinery.

  • National security and energy independence

Every country strives to boost national security and become energy independent. Based on the statistic discussed above, it will be geopolitical advantage if the United States become energy independent since most of the leading oil and gas exporters are either hostile to the United States or unstable(Hughes). For example, the leading oil-exporting nations in the world are Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, the United Arab Emirate, Norway, Iraq, Angola and Nigeria.In addition, 70 % of the conventional gas reserves excluding shale gas is found in Russia, Qatar and Iran. All these countries have consistently attempted to undermine United States foreign policy objectives. In fact some of the proceeds from gas and oil have been used to fund terrorist networks that targets United States and her allies.

  • Air quality

There is dispute that using natural gas instead of coal helps to significantly improve the quality of atmospheric air. Studies have indicated that coal produces pea-soup like air, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter which affects the air quality. For many years, United States has used coal to generate almost half of their electricity(Field, et al.). However, the emergence of shale gas has made the reliance of coal significantly reduced. Coal-generated electricity has declined to 42 % by the end of 2011 and 36 % in the following year.

  • Climate change

The increased use of natural gas and limiting the burning of coal substantially reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere(Beaver). Studies have indicated that burning of natural gas reduces the emission of carbon dioxide by half. When the United States shifted from burning coal to using natural gas, the emission of carbon dioxide reduce by 12 % between 2005 and 2012. It is projected that the emission of greenhouse gas will reduce by 20 % if natural gas is used to generate electricity instead of coal. European countries and China have not made significant improves because they still use more coal to generate electricity because natural gas is more expensive in these countries.


Based on the reasons presented above, I vehemently believe that reasons for claim were stronger than the reasons against the claim. Analysis on the reasons for claim and against the claim indicated that most of the reasons presented to support the claim clearly articulated that shale drilling is morally impermissible and should be stopped because it is bad to the environment and society in general as compared to the reasons against the claim.


Economic competition resulting from increased supply and cheaper natural gas and oil from shale drilling is morally impermissible since it will impede campaigns for renewable energy. Also, as the world work towards ensuring that use renewable energy is achieved, incentive would be impeded with increased supply. In the case of air pollution, all the risks associated with shale drilling poses health risks and increases emission of greenhouse gases, which accelerates climate change. Water usage is likely to affect the supply of water because in most areas where shale drilling is located. Lastly, minor earthquakes and induced tremor are rare and small in according to National Research council. There is likelihood of causing panic among the residence. Therefore, these reasons were not strong enough to support the arguments.

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