The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) may be considered an unethical engineering project. Following the recent election of Donald Trump as President, he has signed an executive order to begin construction of the 30” diameter pipeline and has promised to create several thousand jobs. The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes filed a court case to oppose this, however the appeal to halt the laying of pipeline under Lake Oahe was rejected.
Trump Revives DAPL
The building of the DAPL as well as its location can be ethically justified using the ethical frameworks of Utilitarianism and Consequentialism. Utilitarianism being the theory that an action is ethical if carrying it out results in the amount of happiness caused is greater than the amount of unhappiness caused. Consequentialism being the belief that the consequences of ones actions are the only measure of the rightness of them – or simply that the end justifies the means. In simple terms, this project can be seen as ethical if:
1- it is believed that the construction of the DAPL will result in happiness for American people which outweighs the collective unhappiness due to its construction.
2- the consequences of the construction of the DAPL are justified if the moral outcome of it is seen as great enough regardless of the methods taken.
The arguments in favour of the DAPL under the Utilitarianism framework of ethics are outlined below:
The pipeline will create jobs in the USA at a time where a populist mood of protectionism exists. The pipeline is legally required to be built using American steel and jobs in the oil industry on the East Coast will increase after the pipeline’s completion – this will create hundreds of thousands if not millions of American jobs (https://daplpipelinefacts.com/).
Petroleum accounts for approximately 35% of US energy consumption as an energy source, so the necessity of oil to the US is therefore clear (https://energy.gov/science-innovation/energy-sources/fossil). If the supply were reduced by a lack of access to oil by not building the DAPL, then widespread blackouts and energy rationing could take place across the country. There is even potential to put lives at risk if critical infrastructure lost power i.e. hospitals.
The happiness of petroleum and increased number of jobs outweighs the unhappiness of the Sioux and Meskawaki.
The arguments for the DAPL under the Consequentialism ethical framework are outlined below:
The USA is using domestic energy sources instead of buying petroleum from undemocratic regimes like Russia or Saudi Arabia who consistently violate citizens’ human rights (https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/russia,https://www.hrw.org/middle-east/n-africa/saudi-arabia). The citizens of these countries would then suffer even more at the hands of their governments as they benefit from US money.
500-740 cargo trains and 250+ trucks (https://daplpipelinefacts.com) will no longer be needed to transport crude oil everyday, reducing air pollution in the area of the pipeline.
Both points are good outcomes which according to consequentialism makes the building of the pipeline ethical.
Is Trump Blowing Hot Air?
During his terms as president, Barack Obama denied permission for construction of DAPL, asking the US Army Corps of Engineers to do a full survey of the area. It was concluded the best resolution was to reroute the pipeline although crossing the Missouri River would be inevitable, however, construction was not authorised due to environmental concerns (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/us-army-corps-blocks-dakota-access-pipeline-232172).
By issuing an executive order to revive construction of the pipeline, President Trump has made a normative judgement; believing it will create several thousand jobs and increase economic growth. This delivers on his presidential manifesto that pledged to create 25 million jobs (https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/_landings/contract/O-TRU-102316-Contractv02.pdf). Kantian theory would suggest that the building of the DAPL would not be ethical as President Trump has a conflict of interest between his Presidential obligations and business, due to owning shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the DAPL. This is hedonism and President Trump is trying to fulfil his own pleasures of obtaining wealth and pleasing certain Wall Street stakeholders.
Considering this from a consequentialist aspect, it can be argued President Trump has not taken a utilitarian approach to this problem. Whilst delivering on his manifesto, extraction of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day may result in increased rate of climate change from CO2 emissions. According to a comprehensive study by the UN, climate change already causes 300,000 fatalities each year (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/may/29/1), deployment of the pipeline may increase this number significantly. This decision taken by Trump is completely opposed to the utility principle and on a moral balance sheet, as proposed by Jeremy Bentham, lives of 300,000 people and the well-being of thousands of Native Americans is not outweighed by a few thousand jobs.
The Universalism principle would therefore suggest there is a global mutual need to care for the environment, thereby following the same values. This is reflected by the Paris Agreement on climate change which was agreed by 197 parties of which 140 ratified, including the US (http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php). The executive order contradicts this Universalism principle as burning more fossil fuels would lead to deteriorated air quality, despite President Trump wanting the contrary. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGEzFbRl-g8).
Virtue Ethics suggests that the intentions Trump are not just because he was not prepared to cooperate with Native Americans or environmentalists. Furthermore, he showed no willingness to make compromises despite a direct threat to the physiological needs of Native Americans. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believe that the implementation of this new oil pipeline raises the risk of pollution to the Missouri river, leaving them without a water supply, as well as killing the fish they use as a food source. The quality and availability of water is directly impacted upon by climate change https://cfpub.epa.gov/watertrain/pdf/modules/climate_change_module.pdf, this puts the lives of the Natives at risk and validates the argument they have put to the government.
Group 4: Alex Robinson, Alex Jones, Arun Mittal & Robin Jones