Ethical decision to be made: Should the farm owners allow the company to set up a gas well on their property?

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A mid-sized 460 acre farm in NE PA located directly adjacent to a small town of ~1200 people is having financial difficulty. They are barely profitable and profits are declining suggesting in 2-3 years the farm will be losing money each year resulting in it closing business. The farm employs 25 people plus family members.

The owners of the farm were approached by a large oil and gas company to obtain rights to recover natural gas located beneath the surface of their land using the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The company would require 4-6 acres and road access to an optimal spot for drilling. A drilling and fracking rig plus a retention pool for the toxic fracking flowback fluid will be placed on the land. The oil and gas company assure the owners the process is safe and will not contaminate the water or land. The projected revenue from the new business will substantially increase the farm owner's income. With this income, the family may be able to invest into the farm infrastructure making the farm business profitable again, potentially allowing them to retain their employees or grow their employee base.

Hearing about this situation, a group of towns people investigate and learn that similar drilling operations from the same company in that region have resulted in well water contamination for properties near the fracking site. This contamination prevented owners from drinking the water or using it for bathing and other purposes. Owners of those properties have approached the oil and gas company about the situation and the oil and gas company denied any connection between their operations and the contamination. There are no known means of cleaning the contaminated water. Moreover, laws, specifically the Energy Policy Act of 2005, exempt oil and gas companies from being liable for drinking water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing. A more detailed investigation reveals that many other drilling operations are not contaminating nearby wells in other locations.

Given the proximity of the farm to the town, and the prevalence of well water use for several dozen town residences and businesses, the group petitions the farm owners to reject the oil and gas proposal.

Ethical decision-making process:

  • What are the ethical issues? What does not feel right?
  • What are the relevant facts? Is anything missing or distorted?
  • Who are the stakeholders? What are their influence on the situation?
  • What are the situational factors?
  • What are the values in conflict?
  • How do the ethical frameworks apply? Is anyone/any group not acting with virtue? Are any ethical rules being violated? How would the most benefit to the largest number of people be achieved? Should only people be considered?
  • What are possible solutions? What are the consequences? What must be monitored in the future?
  • What was your final solution and justification?

Implement your solution:

  • Should the farm owners allow gas drilling and fracking on their land? Justify your answer.
fractured_farm_Worksheets_jmc__upload_v2 - JMC6_jsp1.docx

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