Tycoon brings oil to the masses

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


19 thoughts on “Tycoon brings oil to the masses

    1. Surely we need to plan sustainably for the future rather than leave the next generation to deal with the problems we are creating?


    1. Trump will lead us back to the dark ages, we should be investing in solar power rather than building pipes to line his pockets


  1. The Native Americans have been ignored for many years, although under Obama things seem to begin to change. It looks like we are going back in time and I truly feel for those who are losing their land and the tribes who are currently fighting this oil pipeline. I understand that we require more oil for the population and the offer of jobs it brings, but we should not be belittling those who have more right to that land than the rest of us.


  2. Any rights and wrongs of the actual pipeline are overshadowed by the fact that Trump’s abuse of power cannot be allowed to happen.


  3. I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. The oil will still be extracted and distributed anyway, at least this takes trucks off the roads, which will reduce overall carbon emissions. It avoids the majority of the “sacred lands” anyway. Massive fuss over nothing.


  4. Interesting article, the welfare of local Native American tribes will be low down on Mr Trumps priorities and will no doubt not even register in his thought process, any such problems or negative publicity will be glossed over with the bigger story of creating jobs for “”The American” as highlighted in the article. There should be some nice fat contracts for construction company directors who Trump might or might not know.


  5. What trump is doing is completely fine. We live in an era of hyper sensitive keyboard warriors that need to understand trump is bringing us into an age of greatness. Go America!


  6. Whilst most of the world is trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels,what message does such a project send to the world? And considering the rest of the world that has moved on from the 50’s 6.0L V8s that produce 20 horsepower into to electric cars, will there be enough demand for this oil to make this project justifiable? Will the emissions generated by the construction of this pipeline ever be offset by the emissions saved?


  7. Whilst the rest of the planet is terrified by the projections on the impact of global warming and has begun to focus on limiting CO2 emissions, the US is still arguing whether global warming is even real and Trump is ordering new pipeline mega-projects and calling it all a Chinese hoax to steal american jobs.


  8. Do you really think Trump has considered the effect that this pipeline will have on the Native Americans, their lands and their place in US society. They’re already incredibly marginalised and this is just another attempt to disenfranchise them and push them further to the fringes of society by Republicans in the pockets of big corporations


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