The hydraulic fracking debate has already gotten political. Now it’s getting religious.
A Catholic diocese in England is stepping up to the front lines of the fracking debate, urging parishioners to think twice before supporting a drilling practice that injects chemicals and silica sand into the earth to break up rock formations where oil is hidden.
“It may appear … that the church’s approach to an issue like fracking is negative, but this stems from a sincere conviction to take seriously the challenges of caring for God’s fragile creation,” the Rev. Chris Halliwell of the Blackburn Diocese told the Lancashire Telegraph.
Halliwell was speaking of concerns related to oil spills, water contamination and air pollution, all of which have been linked to the fracking boom. A study published by the U.S. Geological Survey tied fracking to earthquakes.
The U.K. is in the midst of a fracking battle similar to the one underway in the U.S. Fracking operations are currently on hold following seismic tremors, allegedly caused by exploratory drilling, according to The Conversation.
Now the debate is over whether or not the industry should return under the guise of new proposals. Like in the U.S., debate is split.
Halliwell isn’t the only member of the Catholic Church taking a stand. Here in the U.S., Ohio’s fracking boom has overflowed into the church, with affected Catholics urging their fellow brothers and sisters of faith to heed caution when told of the industry’s benefits.
David Andrews, former director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, now works at Food and Water Watch. In a column recently published in the National Catholic Reporter, Andrews echoes Halliwell’s concerns.
“Most religious groups recognize moral principles such as the dignity of the human person, the care for creation and an appreciation of the welfare of animals. On all of these concerns, fracking comes up short,” he writes. “It harms communities and harms creation. We don’t know what the long term effects will be, but we know enough to challenge that it benefits anyone except the corporations that make huge profits off of the energy production and does little for the health of the people, animals and nature.”
In February, a coalition of seven faith leaders in New York came together to put out a documentary making the case against fracking. While stemming from different religions, the religious leaders highlighted their common concerns, molding the political and environmental issue into one that also encompasses religion.
“Emotions are running high, there’s a lot of money at stake, it seems to be all about politics and quiet voices of spirituality and religious thought are being drowned out,” Doug Wood, the film’s producer and association director of Grassroots Environmental Education, told EcoWatch. “We thought it was really important to give our faith leaders an opportunity to be heard on the issue before any final decision is made by the governor.”
Methodist Rev. Craig Schwalenberg has taken on an approach that focuses on the moral obligation to look out for future generations.
“We can’t say for sure what will happen with hydrofracking, but there’s enough incidences out there for us to be terribly concerned. And it’s one of those situations where if we’re wrong about it being bad, we don’t lose as much, but if we’re right about it being bad, we lose our water, we lose the earth,” he says in the documentary.
Karin Friedemann, writing for The Muslim Observer, makes the same case, claiming that the fracking boom needs oversight to protect future generations from the long-term consequences of the industry.
“If steps are not taken to regulate this growing industry more effectively, the results of fracking could end up being far more costly in the long run than any short term economic benefits,” she writes.
The incidents Schwalenberg speaks of are numerous.
As of June 11, Colorado had seen more than 160 fracking oil spills in 2013 alone, stemming from 50,000 oil and gas wells throughout the state, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s oil and gas database published in the Coloradoan.
In Pennsylvania, oil spills have also led to evacuations and concerns among residents. This year, Carrizo Oil and Gas dumped more than 22,000 gallons of fracking fluid onto farmland and residential areas.
One study produced by Earthworks determined that inspection of wells and fines for violations in Pennsylvania were inadequate and infrequent. While the industry lambasted the study, saying it was not supported by scientific facts, residents of Pennsylvania say their experiences are proof enough that something is amiss.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, the McIntyre family of Butler County, Penn., told their own story — one that includes mysterious illnesses from frequent vomiting to skin rashes. Like other families living in the area, they link the onslaught of their illness with the beginning of the fracking boom.
“We use water for nothing other than flushing the commode,” Janet McIntyre told the news organization.
Rabbi Douglas Krantz is a prominent anti-fracking voice in the Jewish community, particularly in New York, where residents are lobbying Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend the existing moratorium indefinitely. In his state, Pennsylvania is used as a key example of what residents do not want to see happen. He’s in that same boat, yet sees his case through the lens of his faith.
“I tend to view all issues like fracking from the lens of religious issues that are about how we comport ourselves as human beings, how we have a relationship to the world we live in, meaning the people in the world and the physical world,” Krantz said in a documentary. “How am I going to be more fulfilled as a human being and its not by pillaging? it’s not by taking advantage of, it’s not by exploitation.”
Sister Mary Cunningham, a nun and former pastoral associate at St. Michael’s Church in Ohio, penned an essay intended for members of the church. Now posted on the church website, Cunningham gives a compelling case of her own story in the midst of the fracking boom.
Cunningham lives three miles from a fracking well in Youngstown, Ohio, an area also deemed an earthquake hotspot. In the last 10 years, it’s been hit with a dozen earthquakes. Because of the propensity for quakes, Gov. John Kasich ordered a halt to fracking in the area.
This threat, along with issues relating to groundwater contamination and air quality, has Cunningham joining the ranks of those who are painting the fracking debate in a spiritual light.
“Catholic social teaching reminds us to ‘care for the earth … it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental, moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored,’” she wrote.
In 2011, at a time when more than 3,000 wells had already been drilled in Pennsylvania,Sister Nora Nash recognized her call to action. In an interview with The New York Times, Nash claimed she was already taking part in anti-fracking protests, and had even submitted resolutions to Chevron and Exxon Mobil urging the oil companies to act under more stringent regulations.
Nash is still of that mindset.
“Our major role at this time is to do everything possible to make sure that companies are monitored and required to meet key performance standards in every area,” she wrote in a blog post.
In terms of experience with the industry, Nash is no stranger. Having taken her concerns directly to oil companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Company, she’s also put herself in the midst of the action — both at fracking sites and in the communities they operate in.
Her efforts took her to Pennsylvania’s Tiadaghton Forest, where she saw the fracking operations firsthand.
“The fact that I had to wear a fire retardant suit and a hard hat was enough evidence for me that danger was possible and even more so when I stood at the top of a gas rig,” she wrote.