Ethics and 'fracking': A review of (the limited) moral thought on shale gas development

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Whilst claims about the ethicality of shale gas development via hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, are commonplace in everyday discourse, little scholarly attention has been afforded explicitly to this aspect of unconventional fossil fuel extraction. The limited research that speaks to ethical considerations largely describes ethical concerns associated with development—extremely few claims in research literature make an ethical case for development. The most common ethical concerns cited in research stem from issues of distributive justice, with procedural justice, the precautionary principle, exposure to involuntary risks, rights‐based arguments, and changes in community character and way of life as the next most common. Additional research hints implicitly at ethical dilemmas associated with shale gas development but does not openly identify these issues as having moral implications. Many ethical considerations relate closely to concerns about water quality and the volume/supply of water available for other purposes. The limited scholarship in this area reveals the importance of understanding the ways in which ethics permeate thoughts about shale gas development for designing policy that responds to constituent needs and concerns. Even more limited than research on ethical claims in association with shale gas development is well‐reasoned scholarship that analyzes the extent to which ethical claims about development are well justified and philosophically justifiable. A comprehensive and systematic analysis of the range of ethical claims potentially relevant to shale gas development and their usefulness for informing policy on this topic would contribute greatly to informed decision making on this controversial issue—something that science alone cannot achieve. WIREs Water 2016, 3:575–586. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1152
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-586
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2016


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