The Keystone XL Pipeline is a TransCanada Corporation in United States and Canada

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The Keystone XL Pipeline is a TransCanada Corporation owned oil pipeline system between the United States and Canada. For years Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada engineer, had been inspecting his company’s pipeline systems and found much too often the pipeline system was constructed poorly and failed to meet the engineering standards. Vokes brought up the issue with his superiors in an attempt to resolve the issue, but it only turned a blind eye. He mentioned in an interview that he repeatedly emailed the company’s management about their substandard practices, but was told numerous times that the way TransCanada was operating their pipeline system was fine.

As a result, Vokes went on to make a formal complaint with the National Energy Board for TransCanada’s noncompliance with the standards on their pipeline system. When the issue was brought up to the TransCanada Corporation CEO Russ Girling, he responded with the following, Clearly, the parties involved had two conflicting views towards the situation.

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Girling undermined Vokes complaint and evidence about the pipeline system, and as a result Vokes ended up blowing the whistle on the whole operation. The following year Vokes was terminated from TransCanada Corporation.

Vokes act of whistle-blowing may have been seen as morally wrong by people with an opposing ethical theory, but his action was justified through Kant’s moral theory. Whistleblowing also has two different sides on the moral agenda. Many question whether whistle-blowing is morally right, to allow for society to know the truth, or if it is the corporate duty of the employee to prevent liability on the company’s workers.

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Vokes action can be justified as being morally right under Kant’s theory, but may be seen wrong through a utilitarian point of view.

Kant believed that people should not base their judgements on the consequences since there is no moral value within that. In his view, the only inherently good thing is a good will. Kant also believed that the moral duty was fulfilled when the action is an effect of reason rather than desire. Thus, the duty is also determined exclusively by reason. Essentially, only those whose actions which were performed to fulfill the duty have a moral worth.

An important principle of morality that Kant speaks about is what is known as the categorical imperative. This principle expresses that an action is needed solely for itself, and with no other outside influences. To Kant, it was morally right to treat every person with meaning and purpose. By using a person solely for personal gain was seen as morally wrong.

The most fundamental formulation of the categorical imperative is universalization, which states a moral law should be able to be a universally standardizable maxim. Kant proposes that this principle does not appeal to people’s desires, but rather their rationality. In order to determine whether an action is moral, it should pass the universalization test. The test is done by first formulating the maxim to which an act belongs, universalize the maxim, and determine whether a universe where everyone would act as the maxim proposes be viable. If the maxim is free of contradiction, then it does not violate the moral law. However, if there was an illogicality, then the action would be morally wrong. An example of the latter is the act of stealing, if a person steals from another than the thief is not treating the person as their own rational dignified agent. The thief is merely using the person as a mere means to an end to acquire possessions they desire.

Based on Kantian Ethics it is the intention rather than the consequences that make an action morally right or wrong. Essentially, the act of goodwill is to act from a duty. This is why Vokes action of whistle-blowing is morally right under Kant, because it falls under the categorical imperative. It is possible to justify this by following the procedure to tell whether a particular action is morally right or not. Begin by formulating the maxim, would a world where every person whistle blew for a party’s actions be morally permissible? If whistle-blowing was a universal law, then every party would benefit from the confidence and transparency of companies, knowing that they are doing the right thing. Therefore, is it justifiable that whistle-blowing does not violate the moral law.

Through the same theory, it is possible to see why TransCanada practices were morally wrong. Treating someone as a mere means, is the same as using someone solely for one’s own benefit. When TransCanada received the partitioned land for their pipeline system from the communities, they never had the community’s best intentions in mind. Reducing cost by implementing substandard practices in their pipeline system was only benefiting themselves. The cost of multiple repairs within their system would still be less than creating the entire pipeline system optimally. A busted pipe is a serious hazard for the communities that live near the system. Kant believed that every human is allowed their own rights, and they’re not simply a mere means to an end. People are responsible to do the best for all humanity, which would mean to actively engage with the concerns and best intentions of all people. Kant believed in autonomy, it serves as the foundation for the claims that people are given dignity. To Kant, autonomy was representative of the idea of free will, people’s actions would not be driven by their desires but rather their own rational self. Had TransCanada acted with autonomy and dignity in mind, they would not have continued the substandard practice.

In contrast to Kantian Ethics, rule utilitarianism is a normative ethical theory that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good. A rule utilitarian thinks about the consequences his action has. As such, one must move past their own interests and take into account the interests of others.

Applying this theory to the whistle-blowing case, Vokes had three possible options for what he could have done. He could have kept the information about the substandard practices to himself, reported the incident to his manager, or released information about it to the public. Keeping the information to himself would have led to the continuing of substandard practices, but if it were to be discovered that their practice was the cause of an accident it could damage Vokes and many people that lived near the pipelines. His second option was to report the incident to his manager as he did. By doing this, Vokes believed he would be able to improve the practices on the pipeline system, although he would be seen in a negative light by the corrupt management. Lastly, reporting the situation outside the company would result in putting the company in the spotlight, and a significant financial loss for the stakeholders. This option would result in stopping the substandard practice, but would also reduce the happiness of many involved with the company.

Had Vokes been a rule utilitarian, he would have gone with only reporting the situation to his manager. By doing this, the substandard practices would be resolved, and it would only be him that was negatively affected by the situation. This idea could be extended as a code for future whistleblowers. In the end, the least harm will be one where only the potential whistleblower is seen in the negative light.

In conclusion, Vokes action of whistle-blowing is a controversial topic. Depending on which ethical theory is used to view the situation, his action can be justified as being morally right or wrong. From Kant’s moral theory, his action can be vindicated as being morally right since it was his duty to come forth with the information. But, viewing the situation with a rule utilitarian view leads to the completely opposite conclusion. In that he was in the wrong for leaking the information out into the public since it negatively affected a greater number of people. This situation sets out a basic question in ethical theory and discussion when there are two major different branches of thought. There are many ethical theories that can be characterized depending on how they deal with the situation.

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The Keystone XL Pipeline is a TransCanada Corporation in United States and Canada. (2022, May 05). Retrieved from

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