Talking about New Creation in Western PA amidst the fracking boom

Posted January 15th, 2015 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Talking about New Creation in Western PA amidst the fracking boom

Yes, and that is hard. It is painful.

I was here last August, with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at their precious place called Villa Maria. They have been here for more than 150 years and you feel it from the moment you arrive – or at least I did the first time. 720+ acres of open fields, woods, wetlands, organic farm, the oldest building in the county (the massive barn), and the buildings where many of the community live and work, apartment buildings for seniors, and more. The ministries moving out from this center extend to places from Nebraska to Haiti.

This land also sits on the Utica Shale, one of the largest gas and oil plays in North America, stretching through the eastern half of Ohio, much of Pennsylvania, south into West Virginia, and north into New York. Fracking has been going on in Eastern Ohio for some time and even before the energy companies arrived in this area, people who live and work around here have felt the earthquakes that originate across the state line.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Hilcorp Energy Co. from Texas is the big player in the neighborhood, a private Texas company that prides itself on producing “the energy that keeps the lights on.” What they do in pursuit of that mission is to drill and frack with little if any regard for the impact on local communities, on water and air, on the Earth against which it commits tremendous violence. In order to do that on private property, they have to get land owners to sign away mineral rights, to sign leases that many do not understand, with little information from the company about the impact having well pads, rigs, heavy trucks, noise, air pollution, and potential water contamination will have on their lives, their health, their property values. Their old lives will be gone – just gone.

The sisters have been a problem. They have refused to allow fracking on their land and released a strong public statement explaining exactly why [read it HERE]. They are an annoyance, a witness. Their very stand communicates to the community, the company, the industry, that there is something deeply wrong – on moral, ecological, and spiritual grounds – with this industry.

Since I was here six months ago, a lot has changed. Fracking wells being newly constructed are now operational and more are underway. Fracturing has started and pipelines are being extended through farm fields, in front of simple homes, and into nearby woods. While none of this is taking place on their land, the noise, the glow of lights beyond the property line, the intense truck traffic on now-crumbling roads, and the air pollution encroach. The threat of contamination of groundwater is real, as we know from other locations.
[This was a farm field. Just behind me on the narrow road is a simple house where human beings live.]

Several people here have referred to it as an invasion. It’s an apt term for it. This long-cherished quiet place now finds itself in the middle of a newly-industrializing area, a region of our Mother Earth that is becoming one vast oil and gas production factory.

There is much more of this story to share, which I will next week. As you can see from the masthead, we are claiming our organizational sponsor as the new name for this project. We are claiming that umbrella as our own. Because it proclaims what we believe is most needed as we face the fossil fuel frenzy of our time – new creation – new creation even amidst the destruction all around us.

Ecological hope is manifested in the work of new creation. Despite the invasion, that is also happening here, in the public stand against fracking, in the outreach and education into the wider community that they have engaged since all of this began, in the work of advocacy and witness.

Stay tuned, because there is more to come.


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