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The Ethics of Drilling

Posted by Christopher Long on 06/10 at 09:47 AM

The June 9th, 2009 WPSU story by Cynthia Berger on the possibility of taxing gas drilling on the Marcellus shale that runs underneath much of Pennsylvania did a very nice job of explaining both the logistical difficulties of this sort of drilling and the competing plans to generate revenue for the state from this important natural resource.  The story explained the Natural Resource Severance Tax Act, proposed by Governor Rendell and supported by Democrats in the state senate, which would levy a tax on businesses producing gas from the shale.  For its part, the House Republican Energy Task Force has offered a counter proposal to lease 390,000 acres of state forest land for drilling in order to generate revenue for the state.

In times of economic crisis, it is understandable that the question of how best to monetize our natural resources should gain in urgency.  It is also clear that the PA Budget and Policy Center is correct when it determined that the severance tax plan would more effectively protect our natural resources and the health of our citizens than the competing plan to lease state forest land for drilling.

And yet, although the economy of the state would clearly benefit in the short term from the drilling, this is only one dimension of the larger ethical decision that needs to be made. By focusing exclusively on the economic dimensions of the drilling issue, we fail to think about the broader ethical questions we should be asking as we make such decisions.  Some of these questions would include:

These question extend beyond the complex, but still relatively simple, economic considerations that seem to be animating policy makers in Harrisburg. It is incumbent upon us to insist that the larger ethical questions are given at least as much weight as their economic calculations.

{name} Author: Christopher Long
Bio: Associate Professor of Philosophy / Director of Graduate Studies / The Pennsylvania State University


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