Paper 2


Natural Ethics: Gas or No?

            Sustainable and economic energy manifestation has rapidly become one of the most pressing issues at hand for human society, more so with the ongoing technological boom that will only continue to grow faster in the future. As responsible and aware members of Earth, human society must take sustainable energy research in positive directions for the sake of being able to inhabit the planet for many more generations to come. Collaborative research has proved effective in advancement of areas such as medicine all the way to computing technology. The progress humans have made in these areas proves that when enough attention goes into advancement, goals become achievable. The changes in computing technology in the past twenty years have shown how expensive science and research can eventually lead to economically feasible computation devices that fit in one’s pocket in less than twenty years. Sustainable energy research must endure the state of expensive pursuit that it currently stands in. However, if solutions are found soon enough, the rate of global warming can be slowed. The economics of energy always remain the main factor standing in the way of real sustainable energy implementation. Natural gas stands as an issue because its low prices and abundance in America are not fixed values, even though supporters may think so. Natural gas should not be labeled as the primary solution to sustainable energy in the United States because it would ultimately reach the cost of oil, it would suppress other advancements in renewable energy, and it would still be a contributing factor to greenhouse gas manifestation in the atmosphere.

Basic economics will explain how the costs of resources depend on the magnitude of demand and supply at the specific point in time. Crude oil’s example shows how the discovery of a energy sources that is non-renewable can lead to sharp increases in costs simply due to the fact that its supply has no stable future. In current time, US natural gas prices are low partially due to fact that the natural gas itself is a byproduct of crude oil. The globally high price of crude oil financially backs the expensive extraction processes for natural gas. By the nature of the supply and demand politics that factor into crude oil prices, one could speculate that periods of lower price averages for crude oil to reduce U.S. oil extraction will affect natural gas prices negatively. [1] Supply and demand politics will very likely factor into the prices of natural gas to a similar extent that they affect crude oil. Although it is a more environmentally safe energy source, it will not receive much popularity when prices being to rise and drop unexpectedly. Another reason that natural gas prices wont stay low stems from the United States’ lack of the infrastructure and facilities to begin exporting liquid natural gas. Competition from Russia, Qatar, and Australia threaten the US involvement in the exportation of liquid natural gas to Europe and Asia. Assuming that the US would take a big part in exportation, natural gas can still be used to improve yields in refined oil and lower costs of exportation. Since the United States exports large quantities of refined crude oil, the natural gas could provide great economic benefit. Increased research in using compressed natural gas as motor fuel also threatens the prices of natural gas from staying where they are. By reducing the demand for oil, the natural gas prices are driven up and will begin to fluctuate unpredictably, essentially replacing crude oil. Implementing the use of natural gas will affect the US economy negatively because it will be subject to price rises in the future. Therefore, trying to balance the use of crude oil and natural gas will not effectively reduce energy costs nor will it stop the emission of green house gases.

The pursuit to develop new ways of renewable energy has never been more crucial to the future of the human society than in current times. With each passing year, the Earth begins to gain more and more thermal energy and renewable energy becomes a very valuable asset with time. Leaving the challenge of developing renewable energy sources to future generations will threaten human society greatly. Energy sources such as wind and solar have been improving at increasing rates and in 2011 renewable energy generation rose by 92,791,000 MWh, nearly triple the amount that natural gas generation has increased. While there are fears of natural gas prices rising from the current low, renewable energy attains the advantage of having more global investments than fossil fuels. [2] Prices for renewable energy generation proceed to fall with new advancements, while natural gas only has negative predictions for the near future. The impending threat of global warming does not have as much current impact to the lives of average human beings as much as economic threat. The natural tendency would be to view natural gas as a positive and cheap solution to the problems with crude oil in the United States. Those who support natural gas must recognize the long term affects of the policies receiving votes from Congress and funds from investors. With Americans looking towards a future where automobiles run on natural gas, renewable energy movements like biodiesels will also lose momentum and support from others who view natural gas as a solution. A one-dollar tax credit per gallon has allowed the production of biodiesel to reach record levels, with 14 working plants around the country. [2] These tax credits are now going to be eliminated by the end of the upcoming year so motivation for usage of biodiesel cars will only decline. Another key factor that will affect natural gas’ integration into human society will be the costly process of extraction that natural gas requires. Advancements in drilling and fracking technology will allow for the costs of natural gas to fall slightly, however the prices will reach a limit to which they cannot drop any further. It would be substantially more beneficial to society to continue pursuing advancements in sustainable energy technologies for the sake of generating options and opportunities to integrate two or more different technologies into one system. One of the reasons for natural gas to have an advantage over other renewable energy technologies involves the nature of how natural gas will be integrated into future processes. Since it acts similarly to crude oil as a combustible fuel source, society will generally have a tendency to support it over some other technology such as solar energy. Most people would assume that since the sun is only radiant for several hours of the day, the energy produced from it would be inefficient for a function that involves energy production 24/7. In other words, sustainable energy technologies lack the infrastructure that crude oil had established in society ever since its discovery as a fuel source. Therefore, for any form of sustainable energy technology to advance substantially, large initial investments must be made to establish a suitable infrastructure. For example, wind turbine technology implementation takes careful planning in several respects. The first issue that arises is prospecting; developers of wind turbine technologies must find suitable locations to plant devices, which can be a very time consuming process. Next, the problem of permission comes up; with developments in wind turbines being unknown to most, local governments in the area of the wind site will make careful inspection of the system’s ecological impact. Implementation of the wind technology also requires standards, which due to the newly established nature of wind technology, are still in the long process of development. Since natural gas mimics the nature of crude oil, such developments would require less time and research, causing natural gas to seem like a better solution. The third problem that surfaces for wind technology (or any sustainable energy technology) is marketing. In the early stages of household electricity, people were not given a choice for the method in which the power was produced. In modern times, people have choices and marketing a specific type of power generation becomes difficult, especially when the market does not fully understand it. Therefore, education becomes an even more crucial component to the future of sustainable energy in human society. Lastly, the obstacle of installation, operation, and maintenance remains an issue. With newly developed technology, new principles and guidelines must be formulated to ensure the proper operation of the devices. Such things can take a long time to finish especially since safety is a major component of the implementation of new technologies. Natural gas plants would most likely follow many of the same principles for installation, operation, and maintenance as modern day coal plants. [3]

For the reasons of economic instability, negative impacts on sustainable energy advancement, and the ongoing contribution to global warming, I believe that the implementation of natural gas would have negative consequences. However, due to the current state of Earth’s changing atmosphere, the problem of global warming requires that greenhouse gas emissions be hindered as soon as possible. Natural gas offers a solution that could buy mankind enough time to formulate a true resolution to the problem of non-sustainable energy sources. I believe that natural gas’ harmful effects can be controlled with proper regulation as well as proper education about its negative consequences. The generation of people that will be entering the labor force in the next five to ten years must take it upon themselves to be the change the world needs to create a sustainable and renewable energy source for all man kind to use. With improved education for younger generations, interest in renewable energy technologies must continue, for the future environment may present even more challenging problems and obstacles that human kind must overcome in order to survive. Unfortunately, the first step towards substantial advancements in renewable energy technologies requires large investments and cooperation from both federal and local governments. With the integration of natural gas into mass energy production, these obstacles will only become more difficult to overcome since greedy investors and government officials will recognize natural gas as the new crude oil. With time constantly against us, the only hope remains in the power of education and the will to sacrifice whatever may be necessary to save humankind’s future.

Although all people require energy to live their daily lives in the modern age, are the methods in which mankind has structured to harvest and use energy ethical from the utilitarian perspective? Does the system in place truly maximize the positive benefits of energy to the greatest number of people possible? At the most fundamental level, John Stuart Mill’s theory of utilitarianism focuses on the quality of happiness gained or lost as a result of actions and decisions. When applied to the idea of the future of energy use, natural gas will in fact provide an abundance of cheap and useful energy to many people, therefore it would seem that natural gas follows the utilitarian ethical guidelines as defined by John Mill. However, as explained earlier about the potential negative consequences of natural gas implementation, the passage of time will slowly make natural gas seem more and more unethical by bringing about suffering rather than happiness. Energy prices will climb due to economic instability, global warming will get much worse, and real sustainable energy methods will be left in the dark.

The idea of Rule-Utilitarianism stems from the belief that rules determine the morality of a given action or decision. Since there are no formal rules in place for the particular situation of natural gas use, Act Utilitarianism must be then applied to fully understand the moral consequences of actions and decisions. When natural gas implementation leads to cheaper fuel alternative to oil, the justification of Act Utilitarianism would be that people have more money saved than they did when they used oil therefore causing them to feel happy. When looking at the other half of the operation however, applying the same Act Utilitarian principles to fracking leads to very different conclusions. In the areas in the US that sit above abundance of natural gas in shale rock formations, fracking leads to the contamination of the immediate watershed surrounding the area where the shale rock was drilled. In the effort to harvest more cheap natural gas fuel, have the drillers and engineers compromised morality by bringing pain and suffering to some of the local people affected by the contaminated watershed? By injecting chemicals and taking no responsibility for the dangers of fracking, I believe that although many people still are brought happiness through the cheap prices of natural gas, the gas companies are making a highly unethical decision, even through the perspective of utilitarianism. When Rule Utilitarianism principles are then applied to the fracking issue, there actually are rules in place that go against the introduction of harmful chemicals into the water supply of a region. The fact that some gas companies can get away with the consequences of fracking while violating the Clean Water Act with the so called “Halliburton Loophole” is unethical from the moral standpoint that it violates the established rules.

In 1974, the EPA authorized the regulation of underground injection operations that involved close contact with public water supply of an area. The Underground Injection Control Program had conducted the research to authorize such regulations, much prior to the first reported incidents regarding hydraulic fracturing. In 1997, claims from Alabama homeowners caused a ruling in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for a new study to be done by the EPA to evaluate the possibility of contamination due to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas deposits. Not only did the report and study take approximately 5 years, but also the conclusion was that fracking was not a threat to the water supply of an area in which natural gas drilling operations occur. With the results of the study portraying fracking as a non-threat, the Bush Administration went ahead and added an exemption form the Safe Drinking Water Act and in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 [4]. Although several senators apposed these exemptions, not enough support was rallied to revoke the installment at the time. However, in 2010 Congress instructed the EPA to take a second study of hydraulic fracturing; the report’s anticipated release is set for 2014. In a written agreement between the years 2005 and 2007, the Halliburton Energy Company had agreed to stop the injection of diesel as a fracking fluid due to the number of reported water supplies becoming contaminated. Despite the agreement and within the protection of the exemptions congress put in place, Halliburton has continued to use diesel fuel as a fracking fluid with no repercussions as a result. Halliburton remains one of the top ten oilfield service company that now operates in over 80 countries with revenue of about 25 billion US dollars.

Natural gas lies in a very gray area currently with regards to its economic status as well as in human understanding. With short term goals in mind, natural gas shines through all the negative publicity that oil currently holds even through the consequences of natural gas are not all that different from oil itself. I believe that through the utilitarian ethical mindset, natural gas will lead to greater suffering for humankind in the future and that it is therefore unethical to try and implement natural gas as an alternative to oil. Much like the differences in shareholder and stakeholder theories, natural gas poses a solution to short-term problems and ignores much more substantial long term ones. Companies like Halliburton are rationalizing that increased domestic drilling of natural gas will allow the company to remain very profitable, at the expense of a few local communities that have contaminated water supplies. Once time has been factored into the situation and natural gas costs just as much as oil, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has doubled, and now there are more than just a few local communities with contaminated water supplies. The only truly ethical decision that Halliburton, or any energy company can make is to continue to research new sustainable energy methods. The truly ethical decision not only bring the most amount of happiness to the greatest amount of people possible, but it must also be for the longest achievable time period.

References

1. Studebaker, Paul. Why U.S. Natural Gas prices Won’t Stay Down. in Sustainable Plant [database online]. 2012 [cited October 2 2102]. Available from http://www.sustainableplant.com/2012/04/why-u-s-natural-gas-prices-won-t-stay-down/.

2. Shahan, Zachary. Don’t Believe the (Natural Gas & Anti-Clean-Energy) Hype
Read. in Clean Technica [database online]. 2012 [cited October 1 2012]. Available from http://cleantechnica.com/2012/04/02/natural-gas-vs-renewable-energy-growth/.

3. NaturalGas.org. Natrual Gas and the Environment. in NaturalGas.org [database online]. 2011 [cited October 3 2012]. Available from http://naturalgas.org/environment/naturalgas.asp#emission.

4. Curtis, R. 2011. Where are wells normally placed? Institute for Energy and Environmental Research of Northeastern Pennsylvania Clearinghouse website. http:energy.wilkes.edu/161.asp. Posted 14 January 2011.

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